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Teachers analyze reopening contract

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 2, 2011
— Janesville public school teachers are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss and possibly vote on whether to reopen their contract.

The Janesville School Board on Friday asked teachers and one other employee union to come to the table and make concessions to help the district through its fiscal crisis.


The district gave the unions until Thursday to meet with them, but school board President Bill Sodemann said the board will be flexible.


Union president Dave Parr said the membership is concerned about reopening the contract because of the danger that doing so could wipe out all its provisions.


A lawyer from the Wisconsin Education Association Council will address members about this concern Monday, Parr said.


If the contract remains closed, members are shielded from Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, ensuring their benefits and pay increases would be protected until the contract ends in June 2013.


If the bill becomes law while the contact is open, the bill overrides the contract. The bill would wipe out most union bargaining rights and require that employees begin paying half their pension contributions and a portion of their health-insurance premiums, the amount to be set by the school board.


But if the contract is re-opened and then approved before the bill becomes law, workers remain protected. At least, that's the generally accepted interpretation.


"The membership has to be informed of the risks. That's why the attorney is going to come down and explain what we can and cannot do," Parr said. "Our membership is very concerned at this point."


Parr said that if the bill becomes law before the meeting, reopening the contract would not be possible.


Another problem the attorney will address is the union's constitution, which has rules governing notification in advance of a contract-ratification vote, Parr said. He would not elaborate.


Parr would not discuss why it is taking so long to get an attorney to address the members. Parr was adamant that he is moving as fast as possible. He noted that a misstep could spell disaster.


"Their livelihoods are at stake, and they need answers, so we need to do it right," Parr said.


The board also extended its invitation to AFSCME Local 938, which represents custodial, maintenance workers and food-service workers.


A representative of AFSCME 938 could not be reached for comment Tuesday. District spokeswoman Sheryl Miller said the district had not yet heard from the union.


The district remains in negotiations with a third union, which represents aides, clerks and secretaries.



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