Most Wisconsin school unions survive elections

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Associated Press
Thursday, December 19, 2013

MADISON—Scores of school worker unions mustered enough member votes in this year's re-certification elections to go on representing the employees in wage negotiations, according to data state labor relations officials released Thursday.  

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.  

Elections for 400 unions representing teachers, school support staff and school office workers were scheduled to begin in November. But the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission put them on hold after a Madison judge ruled the commission couldn't enforce the provisions statewide on any local public union. The state Supreme Court vacated that ruling, however, and the elections got underway on Nov. 29. They 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 81 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 91 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.  

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 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 complied 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.



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