Union president: Teacher vote reinforces strength of organization

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Jim Leute
Friday, December 20, 2013

JANESVILLE—Janesville teachers easily recertified their union in balloting that ended Thursday, a result that the local union's leader said is a strong indicator of solidarity and belief in the union's purpose.

They joined scores of school worker unions around the state in mustering enough member votes to keep their unions representing employees in wage negotiations.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining restrictions prohibit public employee unions from negotiating with managers over anything but base wage increases based on inflation. The restrictions also require unions to hold annual re-certification elections to see whether members want the organizations to continue to represent them in those limited negotiations. The bar is high for re-certification; 51 percent of a union's eligible voters must approve.

According to the Wisconsin Employment Relation Commission, which administered the month-long vote, the Janesville Education Association had 773 teachers eligible to vote, which meant had least 395 teachers had to phone-in "yes" votes for the union to be recertified.

Five hundred and eighty-four Janesville teachers called in "yes" votes, while just four opposed recertification. The remaining 185 didn't call in a vote, which meant in this election they were counted as "no" votes.

“The hard part for us was that we had so many new teachers in our district, about 130,” said Janesville union President Dave Parr. “Many of them had no real idea or a strong understanding, so we're extremely pleased to get the results we did.

“It absolutely reinforces the strength of our association.”

Parr said the recertification means nothing has changed as the union continues its negotiations with the Janesville School Board to replace a contract that expired June 30.

“We will continue to negotiate under the limiting terms of Act 10,” he said.

Both sides submitted final offers to a state mediator in November.

“The next step is for the mediator to contact both parties and either declare an impasse, ask us to meet again or ask us what we want to do,” Parr said. “Both sides can continue to meet.”

School board President Greg Ardrey said the strong recertification vote isn't surprising.

“I think the biggest thing from the board's perspective is that they, instead of having individual-type conversations, would rather have someone speak for the teachers as a whole,” Ardrey said.

Ardrey said he expects the state mediator will be able to resolve the current contract negotiations quickly.

Walker and Republican lawmakers passed the collective bargaining restrictions in 2011, saying then that the provisions would give local governments desperately needed financial flexibility. Democrats and organized labor leaders, though, see the restrictions as a blatant attempt to dismantle public unions, one of Democrats' key constituencies.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas last year found the restrictions unconstitutional as they applied to a Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee public workers union. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission stopped enforcing the restrictions on those two unions but continued to prepare for re-certification elections for other school worker unions, arguing Colas' ruling didn't apply statewide. 

Six unions asked Colas to find the commission in contempt of court. The judge agreed in October, saying his 2012 ruling meant the commission couldn't enforce Walker's restrictions against any local public union.

State attorneys representing the Walker administration have appealed the 2012 ruling to the Supreme Court. The court has yet to issue a decision on that ruling, but late last month vacated the contempt order, saying only the justices could issue such a finding. The commission took that decision as a green light to move ahead with the elections.

Elections for 400 unions representing teachers, school support staff and school office workers got underway Nov. 29 and wrapped up at midday Thursday. 

The commission posted results for each union online but didn't provide an overall tally or summary. A preliminary count by The Associated Press showed roughly 80 percent of the unions made the cut. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, also reviewed the data and found about 90 percent of local teacher unions collected enough votes to continue wage negotiations, council spokeswoman Christina Brey said. 

“Even with extreme obstacles that the Walker administration put in the way of local associations seeking re-certification, Wisconsin educators are standing strong to take their rightful place in their schools and profession,” council President Betsy Kippers said in a statement.

Of 27 unions in The Gazette's coverage area, six didn't reach the majority needed for recertification. Four of those represented support staff, custodians and food service workers, while the two teachers unions not reaching the required majority were the 16-member Reek Elementary Education Association in the Linn Joint 6 School District and the 49-member Lakeland Education Association employed by Walworth County Children with Disabilities Education.

—The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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