Segment Synopsis: Follow up: Prior work with unions? Answer: David began work with unions in 1976 in Baltimore. Appalled by the layoff of the five oldest employees in Baltimore’s personnel department, since no age discrimination laws existed, he contacted unions and gradually became deeply involved with union organization. Continuing to talk about his union involvement, Ahrens became an international union representative responsible for an large area covering four states including the metropolitan DC area, which included organizing people for strikes and campaigns. People struck as a means of obtaining collective bargaining rights that hadn’t really existed then. Ahrens moved to California, where working as a banquet waiter he became heavily involved in the San Francisco hotel and restaurant workers union. During this time period there were major changes going on within the union; elections were taking place. Serving as chief monitor, Ahrens focused on getting employees to understand the importance of voting. Most of these people weren’t qualified to vote for presidential elections but showed up to vote for this union election. The outcome was favorable but the victory was bitter sweet as the election winners from the Las Vegas local were all killed. This action took its toll on the newly elected members from the San Francisco local and the matters went to litigation.
Keywords: Baltimore; California; Las Vegas; Union Strikes
Segment Synopsis: Question: You were looking for something different? Answer: Yes; people were getting discouraged, so he decided to attend school for labor relations. He gets a scholarship from AFSCME and attends UW—Madison which at the time was second only to Cornell University.
Keywords: AFSCME; Cornell University; Labor Relations; Wisconsin School of Economics
Segment Synopsis: Question: Adjusting to Madison? Answer: This was Ahrens’ first time visiting the Midwest, so he was use to a more diverse community and remembered feeling Madison was made up of all white people. Related to this, Ahrens struggled with the dissonance between his real world experience and the academic version relating to those experiences. He felt that there was a disadvantage to having experienced four or five years of collective bargaining and then arguing about the disconnect with what was being taught.
Subjects: Diversity; collective bargaining
Segment Synopsis: Question: Where did you live? Answer: He lived on the East side of town with a roommate in the Economics department working towards a PhD. The roommate was involved in labor economics, and he talked about contemporary trends in economics. Responding to a question of his perceived disadvantaged, he reiterated how he thought school was the ‘unreal world’ and wanted to get back to things that happened to people.
Segment Synopsis: Question: Campus activism? Answer: When the TAA strike occured in 1981, he was occupying the office adjacent the leader of strike, who spoke so loudly Ahrens could hear everything he said. Ultimately, ineffective in shutting down classes, the strike did as a secondary effect shut down campus bus service because the Teamsters honored picket lines. Because many members lost about 34 day’s pay during the strike, during later contract negotiation the Teamsters were hesitant to strike because they didn’t want to lose their pay again during a long proposed strike. His differences with the TA strike were tactical, not philosophical. Follow up: Other things? Answer: He said he was not really part of campus, didn’t participate in social groups or clubs connected to the department. He was already tied to unions in and around Madison. An older, married student, he didn’t feel a connection to most of his cohort.
Keywords: COLA agreement; TAA Strike (1980s); department of labor; economic policy institute; labor economics; teamsters
Segment Synopsis: Question: How did you get involved with the Cancer Center? Answer: As the head of research for the union during his last two years there, Ahrens became knowledgeable about healthcare finance. The majority of that union was non-professional health care. He also mentions that his wife was a labor arbitrator, so when she started to deal with cases related to his union, the situation became uncomfortable for him because his main job was to deal with her colleagues. David opted to seek out a job opportunity and began working for the state legislature. He worked for the health committee and focused on health finances and public health issues like smoking and drinking. For of a couple of reasons, including feeling his work could conflict with his wife’s work, DA looked for work that combined his burgeoning interest in public health issues, particularly anti-smoking, but removed him from direct legislative action. So, he found out about the job at the Cancer Center. This led to nearly a decade of work on (or near) campus influencing public policy on smoking.
Keywords: Anti-smoking campaign; Carbone Cancer Center; anti-tobacco coalition; health care financing; legislature; public health
Segment Synopsis: Question: Location of two campus jobs? Answer: The first project was off campus (on Monroe Street); the second (and larger) project was inside WARF. DA reminded the interviewer about how doing anti-smoking work was not as well received as today. He spoke of the “guts” of Carbone for being one of the first cancer centers to address or embrace anti-smoking issues head on.
Keywords: Carbone Cancer Center; Public Relations; WARF
Segment Synopsis: Question: Successes from the first (smaller) grant? Answer: Through the grant DA and others created local, viable anti-tobacco groups, who would initiate change or directly challenge public policy. This led DA to talk about how difficult it was in the 1990s to slow down children’s access to cigarettes. After they felt successful on that issue, they moved to addressing second-hand smoke. The interviewer then asked about the change from the first to the second grant. DA talked about how co-lead that grant with DA (Pat Remington).
Keywords: public policy; second-hand smoke
Segment Synopsis: Question: Could DA elaborate on the second grant? Answer: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the second grant, which focused on surveillance and evaluation, in terms of epidemiology (not NSA spying). DA explained this work, including surveys and biomedical testing. They also created and presented advertisements that ran on TV stations across the country. DA focused here on one aspect of the research, creating a smoke-free workplace, including how it did lead some smokers to give up smoking altogether. DA also noted that other funding came as a result of the larger grant, which led to more testing, evaluating, and advertising.
Keywords: Pat Remington
Segment Synopsis: Question: Any other activism during his public health work? Answer: He volunteered for political campaigns, which he had done for a while, but other than that, he called himself “absorbed” in anti-tobacco work. He continued to describe the “whirlwind” experience of being involved in this public health issue, mainly because he saw real change. This change led to increased enthusiasm for all involved to continue pushing, which led to DA’s continued constant effort on this topic.
Keywords: political campaigns; public health; tobacco industry
Segment Synopsis: Question: Final thoughts? Answer: DA answered “not really.” But he did talk about his relationship, or lack of it, with university issues during his time doing anti-tobacco work. The work inspired him but cloistered him too. He noted that the sun “rose and set” on he and his colleagues on parts of 3 floors in the WARF building. He concluded with comments on the academic staff researcher and their focus (primarily their own program and perhaps those directly related to their project or program). He talked of people that were “in his circle, not of it.” It would take a crisis to get folks out of their silos.
Keywords: Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention
Segment Synopsis: Question: 2003? Answer: David Ahrens (DA) briefly reviewed his anti-tobacco work ending in 2003. By 2005 he started serving as a delegate to the Academic Staff Assembly. DA talked about the assembly, including an overview of it, why he thought it would fit his background, and why its structure (reported to Provost) kept him away from it initially. During DA’s time on the Assembly, the body took no critical view of employee relations. In 2007-2008, DA shifted his focus to UFAS, because faculty and academic staff won collective bargaining rights in 2008. DA explained why he stayed away from UFAS until 2008, but collective bargaining helped nudge him into being involved. DA spoke about the specifics of the bill that gave faculty and staff collective bargaining rights. He focused on what became the “hot topic”: unit clarification for academic staff. DA noted the university “never destroys, it always creates.” He meant that there are always new positions created, and more and more they fell into academic staff (not-unionized) and not classified or unionized. Groups, like AFSCME, started shrinking. DA continued to discuss unit clarification, including petitions formulated by unions to accrete into their ranks. Before the law, unit clarification would add (or not) one to four people; this law could lead to over 4k people joining a union. And they would join without voting yes or no. DA assumed that Governor Doyle when signed this measure figured that people would vote, but there was not a mechanism for it under the law. DA reminded the interviewer of a comment by a union leader after the law, “I want what’s mine,” meaning that unions wanted academic staff added to ranks with or without a vote.
Keywords: AFSCME; Academic Staff Assembly (ASA); Academic Staff Union; budget bill; collective bargaining rights; employment relations; union elections
Segment Synopsis: While all this transpired, the average academic staffer really knew little about what unit clarification issue might mean to them. But in an ill-advised reaction to an upcoming news piece run by the Journal Sentinel, the AFT-WI sent all potential accreted employees a letter basically telling them that AFT-WI would accrete them into their union. According to DA, people went “nuts.” DA recalled at least one academic staffer coming to him, waving his/her letter, asking what it meant. This allowed the university (specifically Chancellor Martin) to “protect academic staff against the union,” being both anti-union and pro-academic staff. DA said this led to an even worse worse-case scenario: Unions seen as the bad guys in the eyes of academic staff. DA attended what he called the most-attended event for academic staff, where all but one person spoke against joining a union. For DA these events led to an “untenable” situation for the union. Consequently, they attempted to decertify by union vote, but this failed because it required 2/3 vote. Thereafter, DA and others left the union. DA concluded this session with an event happening around the same time (and in advance of the 2011 Capitol Protests): The New Badger Partnership. DA offered an overview of this effort, including in his eyes the not so veiled effort to split UW-Madison away from the rest of UW-System. DA attended several events where Chancellor Martin spoke about the NBP; he called her a good salesperson and politician. He saw her focus on how the current system kept staff down; the NBP would remove that encumbrance. DA saw folks nodding agreement during talking points. DA felt that allow her to try and sell NBP without talking about other aspects of it that staff might have liked less.
Keywords: AFSCME; AFT; Academic Staff Union; Biddy Martin; Morgridge; UFAS
Segment Synopsis: Question: Talk about your occupational history on campus after the second grant? Answer: He talked about monitoring the Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation program, which from 2007 to 2011 shrunk every year for political reasons. On campus? Answer: He talked about working in public health, including after 2009, engaging with WI counties in public health rankings and working with local health officials (“very much outside of Madison”) to improve public health—things like pregnancy prevention and bullying. He discussed how he was often met “warily” by the counties, where Madison wasn’t popular and public health wasn’t a high priority.
Keywords: health department officials; public health
Segment Synopsis: Question: New Badger Partnership? Answer: He commented that NBP was very well received on campus, since it was so vague that it was hard to be critical of it. He said NBP was wisely premised on the notion that the days of ¼ funding from the state government was over—state funding would continue to decline. Thus the NBP focused on branding the university. He also discussed reasons for the animosity between UW and the state and how this impinged on the popular notion of privatizing the university. He reflected on the discussions around new personnel/HR policies that would need to be developed as a result of NBP. He discussed faculty support for it. He explained how he came to understand, following the election of Gov. Scott Walker, that collective bargaining and dues deduction were at the top of the Republican agenda and were likely to be repealed in the upcoming term. Subsequent to the introduction of Walker’s budget and union agenda, he said, the New Badger Partnership became immediately suspect to many. But Ahrens thought NBP was especially cogent so that Walker couldn’t appoint his people to the Board of Regents.
Keywords: Academic Staff; Barack Obama campaign; Board of Regents; Capitol Protests; Darrell Bazzell; HR Committee; MacGyver Institute; New Badger Partnership; Scott Walker; Teaching Assistant Association (TAA); Wisconsin Senators; budget emergency bill; classified staff; collective bargaining; faculty senate
Segment Synopsis: Specific memories of the demonstrations? Answer: He recalled initial activities of the TAA (signing I♥UW postcards) and subsequent demonstrations that continued to attract larger and larger numbers of people. He described the demonstrations at “heartening,” but he had a profound sense of anxiety about what would happen next—in the current environment, it was difficult to come up with strategies about what would follow the protests. He reflected on the difficulty of trying to keep the protests connected with UW’s campus, which he felt was “oblivious to it.”
Follow up: You went down every day? Answer: Yes; after Day 3.
Follow up: Describe inside the Capitol? Answer: He recalled not liking it, disliking claustro-phobic situations and noise, etc. But there was a very communal feeling to it, and he was surprised that the administration tolerated it. He noted that they just waited for the demonstrations to play themselves out.
Follow up: The departure of the Democratic senators? Answer: He thought the tactic was good, since it prolonged the debate—otherwise the administration would have just “slammed this through overnight.” He wondered why protesters hadn’t engaged in more civil disobedience, which he thought would show people that the legislation hurts people.
Follow up: The Recall election? Answer: He said he worked hard on it, but knew that if they won the Senate, it wouldn’t be for long. He thought people were “blown away” by the fact that Gov. Walker wasn’t recalled, noting that even the Obama 2012 campaign had to pitch in organizing the recall election if they wanted to recruit volunteers for their campaign. After the recall election failed, though, it took months to get anyone to work on Obama’s campaign. He pointed out the disparity between the number of signatures they were able to get and the votes they got. He continued to reflect on the lack of participation in the protests from UW students other than the TAs.
Segment Synopsis: Why become an alderman? Answer: He said he didn’t have any political aspirations at all until after the current alderman stepped down and none of those he really wanted to get elected would run. He discussed having a good group of friends helping with his campaign, but observed what hard work it is. He reflected on the threshold of asking people to vote for him and give his campaign money.
Segment Synopsis: He again talked about the dependence of AFSCME on the one trick of going to elections, as shown even in their reaction to the protests. He related an anecdote about how a French colleague at UW was surprised at how depleted the power of the unions was to disrupt affairs in Madison. This, he thought, showed that unions couldn’t generate feeling against what he believed was the core problem—that Walker wasn’t playing fairly with the union issue.
Keywords: 2011 Capitol protests; AFSCME; WEAC