By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
What is very clear to me after spending time with the Fond du Lac Education Association is that this is a local association that pushes to be a strong advocate for students, members, and potential members. When I asked Jarred Gerl, head negotiator and executive board member for the Fond du Lac Education Association, about the association’s strength, he said, “For us, none of this work is about a title. We are a group that is committed to advocacy for our members. We focus on the issues and don’t get hung up on problems.”
Jarred went on to tell me that building trust with the membership has been a top priority. He said, “We are out and about in buildings having conversations with our members. The visibility of the FEA is important. We rotate buildings for our meetings to ensure that we are present in all of the locations, listening to our colleagues.”
Jarred pointed out that the union used to ask people to come to them, but given how busy educators are these days, that isn’t feasible or practical. Jarred said, “We need to make this convenient for our members.”
Two summers ago, Jarred was a part of a project in Fond du Lac called the Summer Organizing Project where the local association committed to having one-to-one conversations with members and potential members. They asked their colleagues about what was on their mind.
“For people to join with us, we needed to listen with them and to engage them in conversations about who the FEA is and what we can do together. When I started teaching, I didn’t know all of the behind-the-scenes work that was taking place. We now ask what is needed and then advocate to help it happen.”
One of the items that the FEA has been able to achieve through collective advocacy is professional work hours for all educators. According to Jarred, “As long as educators do the job they have been contracted to do, there is some flexibility for arrival or departure. If we need to leave at the end of the day to get someone to an appointment, we can now do that. Our educators are trusted and respected as professionals to do what they need to do as long as they fulfill the responsibilities of the job.”
The Fond du Lac Education Association has also worked to keep teachers in the district because that is what is best for students. Together with the school district, the union has created longevity pay. Jarred explained, “If someone stays for ten years, they get a thousand dollars; if they stay for fifteen years, they receive fifteen hundred dollars; if they stay for twenty years, they receive two thousand dollars; and if they stay for twenty-five years, they will receive twenty-five hundred dollars.” The sentiment of the FEA was clear; in today’s climate, incentives are essential to keeping educators who are valued professionals.
The work of the FEA over the last few years, through its commitment to one-to-one conversations, has made a tremendous difference. The association has seen strong membership growth of almost one hundred members since 2016. We all know that a strong membership helps to build involvement as does a committed group working collectively toward change.
“There is a tremendous amount of grassroots advocacy that is happening on issues in our buildings,” Jarred said. “When well-intentioned policy is not in the best interest of kids, our educators come together and involve themselves in a process that advocates for student success.”
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.