Janesville school unions request new contract
JANESVILLE Three union locals representing Janesville School District employees Monday requested negotiations on a new contract.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said she would not want to bargain until it's clear what the law allows.
Teachers union President Dave Parr said the unions' offer would benefit both sides as well as students and save the district "millions of dollars."
Parr would not go into details, saying that has to wait until the unions and district officials sit down to negotiate.
The unions made their move 10 days after a Dane County judge struck down portions of the controversial Wisconsin Act 10.
The law restricted collective bargaining by most public employees and led to massive protests in Madison last year.
The state has asked the judge to stay his judgment pending an appeal. Meanwhile, Dane County workers already have a new contract, and Madison city workers are close to achieving the same.
Both sides were willing to reach agreement in the Madison and Dane County cases, said Peter Davis, legal counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, but without mutual agreement, "It's fuzzy out there. There's no clear right or wrong answer as to how an employer should behave at this point."
Act 10 allowed negotiations only on base wages.
The judge's ruling did not define wages, so it's not clear whether "wages" also means benefits, Schulte said.
Schulte said without knowing what can be bargained, "it wouldn't make any sense, and I don't want to waste anybody's time, so we need to be clear what it is we're bargaining on."
Parr said lawyers for the state teachers union have told him they believe working conditions and benefits can be bargained now.
Davis said no one knows whether the court ruling requires an employer to bargain on anything other than base wages.
"Some people think it has opened the door, and other people think it only applies to the parties (who were involved in the original Dane County lawsuit)," Davis said.
"I think the board is understanding and respectful of the duty the board has to bargain ... but as it stands now, I think the aspects of what that bargaining is, is still really unclear," Schulte said.
The Janesville unions have contracts that end June 30, 2013. They are asking for a contract that begins July 1, 2013.
"The future of the school district and Janesville's kids is best served by talking to one another," according to a letter sent Monday by the union leaders representing teachers, custodians, maintenance and food service workers, secretaries, clerks and aides.
"We look forward to your prompt reply and anticipate a positive cooperative relationship to bolster education in Janesville," the letter states.
Schulte said she wants to give the unions "a timely response."
Parr said that even if the judge's ruling were overturned, both sides would benefit by postponing action on an employee handbook, the document that would define benefits and working conditions after the last contract runs out.
"No matter what happens in Madison, we're going to do the right thing for the students here in Janesville," Parr said.
School board President Bill Sodemann said he couldn't say much before hearing from legal counsel. He said it's too late to get the topic on agendas for the school board meetings scheduled for tonight.
"We will hear whatever is appropriate when it's appropriate, so sure, we're always willing to listen," Sodemann said.
School board Vice President Kevin Murray noted that the board had asked the unions to negotiate concessions several times in the past two years, and the unions refused.
"So yeah, let's negotiate. Let's hear what they have to say," Murray said.
Parr said the district's three union groups have never sat down to negotiate together before.