Wisconsin Unions Rush To Get Deals In Place

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — School boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to reach agreements with unions before a new law takes effect and erases their ability to collectively bargain over nearly all issues other than minimal salary increases.

The law doesn’t go into effect until the day after Secretary of State Doug La Follette publishes it and it doesn’t supersede contracts already in place, fueling unions’ desire to reach new deals quickly. La Follette said Monday that he will delay publication until the latest day possible, March 25, to give local governments time to try to reach agreements.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker had asked La Follette to publish the law Monday, but the Democratic secretary of state said he didn’t see any emergency that warranted doing so. La Follette opposed the bill and said he sat in his office watching parts of a weekend protest that brought as many as 100,000 people out in opposition to the law.

“This is the biggest change in Wisconsin labor management history in 50 years,” La Follette said, describing his reasoning for holding off on its enactment.

The law ends collective bargaining for public workers over everything except salary increases no greater than inflation. It also forces state workers to make benefit concessions that amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average.

Walker also is proposing a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan that would take effect in July. He argued that for that reason, districts need to get more money from their employees to help mitigate the loss in aid. Walker also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is telling districts to be cautious about approving contracts that will make it more difficult for them to handle Walker’s proposed cuts. Since Walker unveiled the bill on Feb. 11, between 50 and 100 of the state’s 424 districts have approved deals with unions, said Bob Butler, an attorney with the association.

The vast majority of them included benefit concessions consistent with what Walker proposed under the new collective bargaining law, Butler said.

The Madison school board met in a marathon 18-hour session Friday night to reach an agreement with the local teachers union to approve a new contract that runs through mid-2013.

That agreement freezes wages and requires the same pension contribution as state workers will be required to pay starting later this month under the new law. It also allows the district to require health insurance premium contributions up to 5 percent in the first year of the deal and up to 10 percent in the second year.

The Racine school district voted to approve a new contract with its teachers union on Wednesday evening, as Walker’s collective bargaining proposal was being approved by the state Senate. Several local governments, including the city of Janesville and La Crosse County, also have pushed through contracts in the past month ahead of the new law.

A handful of counties have reached deals with local unions statewide, said John Rhineman, legislative director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Rhineman said county boards want to reach deals in advance of the law taking effect because they want to work together with their employees who, in some cases, are seeking contracts more generous than what would be required under the new law.

“Our people do care about their employees,” Rhineman said. “Some of them feel the bill has gone further than they would choose to go.”

Schools and local governments would be foolish to rush through deals that don’t account for concessions at the same level or greater than what is called for under the law, said Republican Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee.

If they don’t get the concessions, then they can’t complain about the difficulty of dealing with cuts, Vos said.

“Ultimately they’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the ramifications,” he said. “I can’t imagine they’re going to be able to talk out of both sides of their mouth.”

If districts lock in deals with unions that don’t have concessions to help make up for the aid cuts, that could force them into making “mass layoffs,” said Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie.

Eliminating collective bargaining, except over salary, puts both local teachers unions and the school districts in unchartered territory as they try to figure out how to work with one another without the previous structure, said Mary Bell, president of the statewide teachers’ union that fought unsuccessfully to stop the bill.

“This bill creates chaos and that doesn’t benefit anyone,” Bell said. “There’s a great deal of anxiety, as you might expect.”

La Follette said he heard from many schools, cities and counties urging him to delay enactment of the law as long as possible. Waiting the full 10 days afforded under the law is his office’s usual practice anyhow, La Follette said.

The law is also being challenged in court. A hearing on that lawsuit, brought by the Democratic Dane County executive, was scheduled for Wednesday. A request for an emergency injunction to block the law was rejected on Friday.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Your Big Daddy!

    They scurry like a bunch of rats

    • Walker

      Politicians in Wisconsin trying to save their future. Yup, you hit it right on the head. It doesn’t take much to see there will be backlash.

    • Who me?

      I would not leave the RATS a single crumb, just a few giant rat traps in the road!

  • Lucifer

    I’m sure getting tired of all of the slimey politics that is going on lately. How is this cut throat politics good for America.

    I want to know one thing…. Why on earth would any school board want to settle a teachers contract now instead of waiting for the new law to take effect. Could it be that the school boards have been hijacked by the teachers union too?

    • Your Big Daddy!

      The Teachers and Dems like having the hands of the unions in their pockets, pocket pool with someone elses hand!

    • Earl

      Judging by your comments following the slime comment is that the Republicans will keep up the tactics as long as there are people like you supporting them. If the school boards were hijacked by the teachers union there would be no argument for a contract. How disgusting it is when people make such accusations without the least bit of thought.

  • Tea says it's not the whole story

    The thing the store does NOT mention….is……
    Doug La Follette (D), …..
    Oh…and what does the (D) stand for?
    So…step #1 has been completed….but all of the “(D)”‘s will make this as tough as possible to get through….

  • jon

    If you are not a business owner or make less than $80,000 how do you think you will benefit from this law? That’s the question people should be asking themselves.

  • Shannon

    And now our public schools will be as bad as Minnesota’s. What do you expect from a Governor who flunked out of college (some say he was kicked out for cheating – which I wholeheartedly believe). Education always suffers. Some political parties just don’t value it.

    And, no, I will not send my children to private schools like I attended. And, no, I can’t afford to quit working and home school because the Koch brothers want my money.

    The budget will never get balanced under Scott Walker.

    Go ahead with the venom and hatred in your responses. I don’t care. See you in 2012.

    • An Old Teacher

      Dear Shannon-

      AT LAST! Finally a liberal who recognizes that conservatives have won the day. If I read her correctly, Shannon seems to be willing to shut up, endure Republican gloating, lick her wounds and work for a big Democratic win 2012. THIS IS VERY AMERICAN AND COMMENDABLE SHANNON! Good Luck, for you will need it! There is a change sweeping America that will not be easy to stop my liberal lady.

      • Shannon

        I just wish conservatives actually cared about chilldren’s education. Gloat all you want. You are killing education. And you don’t care. It’s sad really. Seriously, why are you against education? I’m not being facetious here, I’d actually like an explanation.

        But you can’t enslave thinkers. See you in 2012 An Old Teacher. (Though your response was just a teeny tiny bit condescending, I like you anyway.) And I really do appreciate the lack of venom and hatred here. I am trying to state my opinion and be open minded here. I believe in having a dialog about our differences.

      • an Old Teacher

        Dear Shannon-

        I AM NOT AGAINST EDUCATION! I spent 35 years as a high school history teacher and I enjoyed every single day. During my career Shannon, my union did very little but take my dues and protect teachers with no passion and or skills.

        Capitalism is the only real choice in the world Shannon, including education. Socialism which is dead or dying around the globe, only creates boring sameness. This farm boy went to school and gave my best everyday because I loved kids, my subject area, and I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t earn my salary. To me, public school teacher unions stifle teacher creativity and only help to create unneeded rules, regulations and mediocrity.

        Thanks Shannon for being respectful. It seems that not all Republicans and Democrats hate each other these turbulent days!

      • Shannon

        Dear An Old Teacher ~

        I’d heard about “Compassionate Conservatives”, but truly thought they were an urban myth until this conversation. You have opened my eyes a bit, though I do not know the definition of the “boring sameness” of which you speak.

        I do respect your opinion on the matter, and I appreciate the insight into the Unions that you have provided based on your experience with them.

        I enjoy tutoring kids in reading. It is such a great reward to see them learn and succeed. Children are very astute individuals. I learn as much from them as they do from me. And their optimism is contageous – it is hard for me to have hatred in my heart for anyone even in these difficult times.

        Thank you, An Old Teacher, for your years in education. How wonderful it must be to know that you helped children and made a difference in their lives.

        And thank you for being respectful to me as well. Hope to see you around the comments section of the political news in the future. I’m glad we can listen to each other and agree to disagree.

  • @shannon


    go see waiting for superman. and tell me that the education system isn’t broken.

    • Shannon

      My children attend an excellent public school in Wisconsin – WKCE test scores in high 80’s to 100. Superior test scores. Our teachers are hard-working, caring people who work to attain Master’s degrees (at their own expense) and do not make anywhere near the $90K+ (including benefits) that they are accused of making. Yet, they are vilified for wanting to make a decent wage. These are people that I need and want in our society. They collect coats for needy children who have none. One kindergarten teacher even bought an extremely poor family a Christmas tree when they couldn’t afford one. They buy their own classroom supplies. Every child in this country should have access to a decent education.

      It seems to me that when Democrats collect taxes, the money is used in the community. When Republicans collect taxes, the money goes elsewhere.

      I have tutored children from Minnesota and Illinois schools in reading, so I know the education system is broken. Schools and teachers that perform well should not have funding cut especially when Republicans like Sheila Harsdorf are benefitting from farm subsidies and then turning around and telling me that my children’s education has to be sacrificed to balance a budget shortfall caused by Scott Walker giving money to his owners.

      Can you understand how frustrating it is when those of us in the middle class who work hard to try and get ahead never see any of that money “trickling down”?

      I will rent “Waiting for Superman”. Again, I appreciate no venom and hatred directed at me. I’m just frustrated.

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