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After nearly four decades of campaigning, faculty and academic staff union members across the University of Wisconsin (UW) System won the right to bargain collectively in June 2009 when the Governor signed legislation that modified state labor law. In this paper, I present historical and interdisciplinary analyses of the organizational structures that were critical to the campaign’s success. While the case study should be interesting for academics across disciplines, the Wisconsin experience carries generalizable lessons for union organizing in any sector of the economy. In addition to cataloguing the tens of legislative attempts that faculty and academic staff unionists undertook to win collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, my paper juxtaposes the legislative goals with environmental variables such as which political party controlled state government and how many faculty and academic staff were committed to the campaign at any given time as regular dues-paying members. It is clear in this light that persistence paid dividends for the campaign and that leverage created by the Local unions in relation to their state and national affiliates was necessary for the campaign’s longevity and success. Against this backdrop, I also consider the degree to which tensions between a Local union and its larger affiliates might variably impact union organizing across different international unions. The case study has relevance for discussions of minority or non-majority unions as well as strategic decisions about how unions pursue level playing fields for organizing new members.


Suggested Citation
Kniffin, K.M. (2010). Organizing to organize: The case of a successful long-haul campaign for collective bargaining rights [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.