By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
The Northern Educational Support Team (NEST) is a local with committed leaders and a unique structure built around the philosophy that we can build power when we join together and combine our efforts. This local is made up of education support professional units from multiple districts: Arbor Vitae-Woodruff, Chequamegon, Hurley, Lac du Flambeau, Lakeland, Mercer, Minocqua, North Lakeland, Phelps, Phillips, Rib Lake, CESA 9, Northland Pines, Nicolet Maintenance, and Tomahawk. These locals join together to have a larger governance structure in NEST with a Secretary/Treasurer, Vice President, President and one director per bargaining unit.
Kayla Cottrell, NEST Secretary Treasurer and President of the Tomahawk Support Staff, told me, “Having joined forces gives us numbers and collective power. It also connects us to members in surrounding districts who are in similar roles and can help and support our needs.”
When I attended a recent meeting of the NEST Executive Board, one thing was clear, this group is committed to rebuilding locals around them who are struggling. Kayla said, “Regional Director Josh Skubal helped us put our structure back together, and now, we have plans to go out into our schools to tell them your union is still here. We want you to help us to grow.”
When I spoke with Mike Hartzheim, NEST Vice President, he told me, “This structure provides focus to our groups. We are connected and as support staff, can discuss our needs and address concerns.”
The importance of this was obvious in northern Wisconsin with so many small, rural districts. Mike also said, “NEST provides us with resources to inform and help to identify political and legislative events affecting the education budgets and our workplace environments. We often assume that those in power have our best interest at heart, but that’s not always the case. We are all busy, but we need to stay informed, and this gives us a way to do that.”
I asked Kayla about her advice for struggling locals, and she said, “We’ve all struggled a bit since 2011, but if you take time to identify leaders and sit down to develop a plan, it is possible to rebuild or restructure for our students and our colleagues.”
It is obvious that the group of NEST leaders knows that a better future in our schools across Wisconsin starts with our members being connected to one another. They are working to build those connections and strengthen each of their locals in NEST. I asked Kayla about her vision for the future, and she said, “I want to see a strong NEST and strong locals everywhere.”
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.