Janesville teachers to vote on union's future

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Frank Schultz
Friday, September 13, 2013

JANESVILLE—The Janesville teachers union will hold a vote to recertify the union later this fall.

Teacher contracts in Kenosha, Janesville and Milwaukee expired in June, so the controversial law known as Act 10 took effect for those school districts July 1. The law requires the unions to apply to recertify by Aug. 31 in order to be recognized as bargaining units.

Milwaukee and Janesville filed by the state deadline, but Kenosha did not, said Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. 

The Kenosha teachers union, representing educators in Wisconsin's third-largest school district, is decertified and cannot bargain with its school board for base wages.

Observers note that school boards might still feel the need to increase wages in order to remain competitive with other districts.

Act 10 requires public employee unions recertify each year, said Dave Parr, president of the Janesville Education Association.

The recertification vote can be taken by phone, but those who don't vote must be counted as “no” votes, Parr said.

Parr said he didn't know the thinking of the Kenosha Education Association's leaders, but he said there are two strains of thought on recertification.

One argument is that Act 10 will be found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled on a challenge to the law, so recertification will not be needed.

The other argument is that recertification can't hurt, no matter which way the court rules, Parr said.

The Janesville union and school board, meanwhile, apparently have reached an impasse after going through mediation, officials on both sides said.

Parr said he received a letter from the district Friday that basically says mediation failed, and the union has 10 days to respond.

Janesville School Board President Greg Ardrey said once the required paperwork is completed, the board could impose a settlement, as Act 10 allows.

Act 10 limits the unions' bargaining to base wage increases, which are tied to inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

The Janesville School Board is offering no pay increase, while the union in its opening bid asked for the maximum increase allowed this year, 2.07 percent. Subsequent negotiations have been closed to the public.

Ardrey said he expected the board would discuss imposing a settlement at its Oct. 8 meeting, and he did not rule out the possibility that the board could decide to give some kind of increase.

Janesville teachers, meanwhile, have gotten their first paychecks affected by Act 10's requirement that they pay into their pension fund. Take-home pay is further limited by a new health-insurance system that increases teachers' premium payments.

Christina Brey of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, downplayed Kenosha's decertification, saying it's just another hoop for local unions to jump through.

“It seems like the majority of our affiliates in the state aren't seeking recertification, so I don't think the KEA is an outlier or unique in this,” she told the Journal Sentinel. 

Brey said the union still exists with or without the recertification vote.

“They just can't negotiate over a small portion of what they want a voice in,” she said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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