One of the giants of MATC history has passed away. Former Local 212 President Bill Thomas died unexpectedly on Monday, January 4th.
Bill devoted his professional life to MATC and its students. He taught physics for more than 30 years, retiring in the mid 1990s. He was equally dedicated to his colleagues, serving Local 212 in many capacities, including as President from 1968 through 1969 and then again from 1986-1990.
Bill Thomas was President of Local 212 when the faculty and staff were forced to go on strike in the winter of 1968. Faculty and counselors walked the picket braving the bitter cold, demanding that they be treated like professionals and not cheap hired hands. MATC students as well as labor organizations such as the United Automobile Workers Union rallied to 212’s support.
Under Bill’s disciplined leadership Local 212 used a variety of creative tactics including have a children’s march in support of their striking parents and picketing the Carpenters’ Union office because the Carpenters’ President, a member of the MATC Board, was not supporting the striking teachers.. In many ways, the creativity and militancy that has helped establish Local 212 as one of the nation’s most effective teacher unions took quantum leaps under Bill’s leadership.
Local 212 won the respect and professional treatment it was demanding in that strike. No longer would teachers be required to punch a time or monitor the cafeteria. Most importantly, the resulting labor agreement included language that established shared governance at MATC, requiring the college president to meet with Local 212’s leadership monthly. That critical language remains in our labor agreement.
Last summer Local 212 Executive Vice President Charlie Dee and I interviewed Bill Thomas and several other former strikers. Portions of that interview will be incorporated into a video being done by instructor Kevin Mulvenna and shown at our Spring Social Solidarity party, which will be a tribute to the 1968-1969 strike and strikers.
Bill Thomas was a quiet and unassuming man. Yet his work helped thousands of students obtain the skills they needed to pursue productive and fulfilling lives. He also led a critical battle in the struggle to ensure that MATC faculty, counselors and professional staff would be treated with the dignity and respect we deserve as professionals. He made MATC and Milwaukee better places.
Those of us who knew Bill Thomas fully understand what he meant to MATC. Those of you who didn’t know him nonetheless benefit daily from his life’s work.
He will be missed. His unfinished work is left to all of us.
Visitation will be at the Hartson Funeral Home, 11111 W. Janesville Road on Saturday, January 9 from 11 AM until 1 pm. Service at 1 PM.