Janesville56.5°

Can mediation bring a contract?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 30, 2008
— Now that the Janesville public schoolteachers’ contract is going to mediation, those involved seem almost happy about it.

Teachers have seemed unhappy about the prospect of mediation since the school board suggested it last August. The teachers refused to file a joint petition for mediation.


So the school board filed a petition on its own in September. Tentative dates to get started have come and gone since then, but mediation never happened. Someone on the teachers’ side always seemed to have a scheduling conflict.


When Superintendent Tom Evert mentioned the word “mediation” at a bargaining session on Jan. 21, the teachers took that to mean the board was not interested in further talks, and that was the end of the meeting.


Jennifer Fanning, co-lead negotiator for the teachers, said the teachers were frustrated to come to a meeting only to find that it was a waste of their time.


The “mediation” incident seems to have been a misunderstanding, and the two sides have patched things up. Both sides also seem to understand that outside help might be their ticket to a settlement.


“I think if we meet with a mediator they can probably bring us to some sort of compromise,” Fanning said.


Evert and board members have been saying for some time that a professional, neutral mediator is needed.


State mediator Karen Mahwinney said Tuesday signs look hopeful.


Mahwinney was assigned to the Janesville case, but she’s nearing retirement, so Marshall Gratz of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission probably will take over, she said.


“He’s a terrific person. A wonderful mediator. Very highly respected,” Mahwinney said.


Mediation is scheduled tentatively for Monday, Feb. 11. In a way, it’ll be a whole new ballgame.


All previous offers are off the table, Fanning said, although the teachers might be willing to discuss previous ideas.


After talks broke down Jan. 21, the Janesville Education Association sent a note to its members, saying that if the board wants mediation, the JEA would propose a three-point plan:


-- A cost-of-living raise for all teachers.


-- No changes in health care.


-- A 40-hour work week.


Fanning said cost of living would be a raise of about 3 percent in each year of the contract. That’s less than offers already made by both sides, but Fanning noted that the school board’s offer came with changes in health care that would have taken money out of teachers’ pockets.


Whether the teachers will take that three-point offer to the mediation table is unknown. Fanning said discussions took place after that message was sent to members, and things might change.


The teacher-negotiators plan to meet Monday to discuss their bargaining stance.



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