Spotlight on Locals: Gateway Technical Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents the strong local affiliate certificate to the Gateway Technical Education Association. Members who gathered for the photo (Left to Right): Sheri Eisch, Ann Stotts, Peter Pham, Allen Pearson, Colleen Aird, and Lisa Packard-Rykiel.

The greatest success of the Gateway Technical Education Association (GTEA), according to Jay Johnson, current President, is “being able to engage members and get more educators active around issues that matter.” 

Gateway Technical Education Association surveyed members after impasse was declared in their last bargain and delivered their responses to administration to share collective concerns.  This kind of advocacy has led to success in recertification elections.  Jay shared, “Educators at Gateway Technical Education Association support us.  We continue to increase the number of supporters in our recertification election with about 80% turnout and nearly unanimously yes votes.  This matters in continuing to engage administration in discussions with us.”

Serving as GTEA’s Membership Coordinator, Colleen Aird believes their local’s increased visibility both with their board and in their community is a success for their local saying, “We are building relationships with other locals, including WCTC and MATC, as well as bringing important issues to the attention of our board. We hope these efforts will lead to many future successes and collaborations.”  Colleen and others spoke up at a recent board meeting about changes to an early retirement benefits plan that affected many Gateway Technical College employees saying, “we will represent our members in the best way that we can. While we know that this isn’t easy, stepping out of our comfort zones to speak up for our benefits, working conditions, and students is critical and the GTEA is willing to stand up and be the voice for our educators.” 

Nicole Gustafson, Secretary for GTEA, told me, “it’s important for our voices to be heard.  We don’t want changes for educators without us being involved. We are all in this together, and are stronger when we recognize what is possible when we collaborate.”  Nicole also shared the work of their local in not only surveying members, but also holding well-attended listening sessions, “we listen to our members, and work to build strong relationships with not only our members but our board, administration, and our community.  This makes it easier to recognize that we are more alike than different. We also maintain a focus on the greater good.”  

Ann Stotts, in her fifteenth year at Gateway and serving on the GTEA council, said, “We have a mentality of having to work together to solve problems and to educate students, and our maturity and intelligence set us apart.” 

All of their efforts have led to success as Gateway Technical Education Association is growing in membership, which is a goal of their local.  Colleen spoke about this ongoing work, saying “we continue to improve our outreach to new hires, and we have also been increasing our visibility at college events.  For example, we now have a presence at our college’s Employee Learning Day, where we have a table of information and people can stop by to ask questions.  This is a great opportunity to connect.”

GTEA wants their students to know who they are as well.  Ann mentioned the continued success of their school supply drive.  Colleen elaborated, “our school supply giveaway for our students includes a folder, notebook, and pen for each student for the spring semester.  The folder includes a letter from our current President expressing to our students that we are here to help and serve them, and that we care that they have the supplies they need to be successful.”

Gateway has also been engaged in more communication with members, utilizing a new position in the GTEA of Communication Director who handles weekly email bursts and sometimes hard copy newsletters about events happening in WEAC Region 7, WEAC, and the NEA.  Colleen shared, “we want to keep the union on people’s minds and this systematic communication is a great way to send information and for our members to know that we are here to help them or answer questions.”

As far as advice, Ann said, “Don’t get discouraged.  Local leaders can really make a difference, and we have support.  Our work is empowering, and everyone can contribute.”   

Jay said, “Our union is far bigger than just those of us at GTEA and far more connected. Be sure to communicate with members, administration, the public, and elected officials.  Then, get members engaged in the work.  If they can do something small to start, it helps to bring them into the organizing work of the GTEA.” 

Finally, Colleen shared this advice to leaders in Wisconsin, “Take advantage of WEAC trainings.  When you are in a local leadership role, it’s easy to feel like you must know all the answers, but that is impossible.  Recognize that your role may be sometimes overwhelming, but by taking advantage of trainings and asking questions, you will be able to grow as a leader and be a better advocate for your students and your colleagues.”   

WEAC says thank you to the Gateway Technical Education Association for their advocacy on behalf of their members, their students, and the technical college system in Wisconsin.