Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Rush To Contract

Raise your hand if the sudden scheduling of a school board Negotiations Committee meeting for 4:00 PM yesterday registered on your personal radar screen.  We thought not.

At the 11th hour, as the Capitol Endgame appears to be drawing near, contract proposals were exchanged between the school board and the teachers union (SPEA) and also the support staff (Local 60).  The game of negotiations is played in this manner:
1. Parties meet in open session
2. Contract proposals from the unions/group are offered (note this is the public's only opportunity to see proposals)
3. Then the school board passes over its "counter" proposal
4. Then the fun begins.  Now they go into closed session and discuss the proposals, possibly reaching agreement.
5. We, the public, only learn the outcome when they schedule an open session.

The SPEA proposal
In what our fact checkers are attempting to verify to be the most concise contract proposal in labor history, the teachers union offered this proposal (verbatim):
SPEA Settlement Offer for February 25th
Status quo on language of contract and concessions on WRS and health insurance premiums.

(during open discussion SPEA indicated that "ideally" they were seeking a 2-year contract extension.  It was also clarified that by "concessions", the intent was to accept the shares of retirement and health insurance contributions as outlined in Gov. Wokka's Budget Repair Bill)

The Local 60 Proposal
Proposal to....February 25, 2011
1. Effective July 1, 2011, increase wages by 0% (steps would still occur)
2. Effective July 1, 2012, increase wages by 0% (steps would still occur)
3. Effective July 1, 2012, increase the employee contribution toward health insurance to 12% 
4. Effective July 1, 2011, employees would be required to contribute toward their WRS pensions per Statutory requirement
5. Contract duration July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013

The School Board/District counter proposal

  • No increase to the salary matrix/grid.
  • Step and lane increases will be provided per contract.
  • No increase to employees that are "off the grid".
  • Employees that participate in a Health Risk Assessment shall pay 9% of health insurance premiums.
  • Employees that do NOT participate in a Health Risk Assessment shall pay 10% of health insurance premiums.
  • 3-tier co-pays for prescription drugs ($0/$5.00/$20.00) remain the same.
  • Employees pay the "statutory required" Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) contributions (5.8% of salary in the Budget Repair Bill)
  • Athletic/Activity (coaches/clubs) positions will be offered to the most qualified applicant ( instead of being offered outside the union only if there are no qualified union applicants)
  • 1 one-year offer for July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012

The Case AGAINST this Deal
Hardliners would argue that while the school board's counter-proposal comes very close to what would result from Govictator Walker's Budget Repair Bill, the salary grid remains in force, which translates to at least 3% annual increase s for bargaining unit members who are still "on the grid".  The budget repair bills would allow only negotiations for wages capped at the Consumer Price Index.  Read emphasis on "capped".  Most believe that Walker will deny any raises.

More importantly, detractors will --and should--point to the fact that this "deal" provides only a single business day to review any contracts, assuming the contracts are posted for the public by Monday. (As of Saturday morning, contracts had not been made available to th public through BoardDocs.  We don't even know whether or not the Board struck a deal.  All we know is that at 7:57 PM on Friday 2/25/2011, a new "public notice" was issued to "Key Communicators" announcing that Contract ratifications between the Board and SPA and the Board and Local 60 had been added to the agenda for the Board's Monday 2/28/2011 meeting. 

It will not go unnoticed that the teachers union has enjoined complaints about Wokka's rush to push the Budget Repair Bill through.  Walker's bill was announced on a Friday and discussion wasn't initiated until the following Tuesday.

The Case FOR this deal
Look, we can argue till the cows comes back from California that the school board is offering a deal where none is required.  We can argue about the timing.  Yes this came up with virtually no public notice.  Yes, the school board appears to be continuing a long-standing trend of trying to operate beneath the public's radar coverage.  But maybe...just maybe...we can take the high road on this one and see if our doing so will transform into a quid pro quo of sorts.  District staff are not on the state health insurance system, so the 12% insurance premiums would not have been required.

Yes, we could certainly plant our collective foot firmly on the necks of ALL school district employees.  Governor Walker has given us the freedom to do what the school board would never have done independently.  But do we have to transform ourselves into his own image?  More to the point:  why would we even want to?  We're better than he is.  We're more sensitive to people and their lives.   Walker has kicked all union employees down with his proposals and desire to eliminate castrate bargaining rights and destroy unions once and for all.  Do we need to kick these people while they lie writhing on the ground?  We don't think so.

While we could certainly extract blood from a stone, this is a GOOD deal that provides the following:

  • It raises the floor for young/new teachers, allowing us to be competitive in hiring
  • It caps the ceiling; a long-term issue has been paying teachers $90,000 or more.
  • It provides us the relief from fringe benefit costs we've sought for years.
  • It allows us to re-capture projected losses in state aid (gee thanks, Scottie...) through retirements, WRS contributions, and increased health insurance premiums.
  • It allows the district to hire the best individuals to lead sports and activities instead of being forced (in most cases) to select from the union.
  • It allows us to maintain the quality of education in Sun Prairie without risking class size increases or staff cuts.
  • It allows us to be human.
Let's show the Governor that, unlike him, we don't just say that we value people and their rights to collective bargaining.   We sit down at the table like grown-up human beings.  We negotiate, not dictate.  We are concerned about the taxpayers that support education AND we are concerned  about the PEOPLE that make up our labor force.  We will ALL hurt as a result of Walker's actions.  But we don't have to suck the life force out of our people.  We can give them hope for brighter days tomorrow.