No 'Fair Share' in Contract Ratified by Teachers' Union

MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
The bargaining teams for the MEA and the MCPASD.

The Middleton Education Association (MEA) teachers’ union on Valentine’s Day ratified a new contract proposal for the 2013-2014 year. Despite the romantic date on which the vote occurred, emails obtained by the Times-Tribune show there was no love lost between the two parties while they hashed out the deal.

The contract will go before the Middleton-Cross Plains Area Board of Education for a vote on Monday night.

Under the new deal, salary increases would be determined at the school board’s discretion. Teachers who took part in a Health Risk Assessment would maintain their current 12 percent contribution toward health insurance. (Those not completing the assessment would contribute 15 percent toward the annual insurance premium.)

While the union and the school district came together on an array of issues in the new deal, conflicting interpretations of Act 10 led to heated exchanges about the future of Fair Share, the practice of automatically withdrawing union dues from all teachers’ paychecks.

While the union initially fought to maintain Fair Share, the contract approved by the MEA last week would eliminate the practice, allowing teachers to opt out of – and stop funding - the union.

The fact that the district and the union sat down at the table together at all was unique. Following the passage of Act 10, most districts in Wisconsin opted to replace contracts with employee handbooks. Further complicating matters, the two sides remain embroiled in lengthy and costly legal disputes over past discipline of educators.

In a January 25 email to teachers, the MEA bargaining team, which includes Chris Bauman, Pat Keeler, Jill Larson, David Dahmen and Deb Hoskins, accused the district of attempting to “bust the union.”

The message said the school board had made “at least 20 proposals” during negotiations, “with each one having an impact upon teachers’ working conditions, hours, and/or compensation.”

The accusation of union busting was in reaction to the school board’s attempt to eliminate Fair Share. The MEA claimed the district initially offered to keep dues deduction “in full force and effect for the 2013-14 school year.”

However, according to the union, the district changed course on Dec. 18, proposing to eliminate Fair Share from the contract “due to uncertainty connected to legal aspects in this area.”

“It is important to remember that Fair Share is a worker representation issue and not an educational issue,” wrote the union’s bargaining team. “The [school board’s] Right to Work proposal is union busting, hoping to silence effective voices in times of disagreement. Wisconsin is not a Right to Work state, but the [school board’s] proposal makes MCPASD a Right to Work district.”

The union argued that all members would benefit from language in the contract, so they should all pay an equal share for the costs associated with gaining and maintaining those benefits. 

Whether Wisconsin is a Fair Share state or a Right to Work state – at least for government employees - is in part dependent on how the courts construe Act 10. At this juncture, interpretations of the Republican-led effort to eliminate most public employees’ bargaining rights have varied significantly.

During negotiations, the MEA contended that Fair Share remained valid, writing that “nothing changed with either the Dane County Circuit Court or the Federal Court rulings between October and December 2012.”

“Fair Share language assures people pay for something they get,” the bargaining team wrote. “It is no different than all district residents contributing to their schools, whether they have children or not, whether they agree with every decision made by a politicized school board or not.”

The MEA said the district’s continued refusal to re-instate Fair Share was initially met with “stunned silence” from the union.

“The board hopes you’re not watching, and that you are apathetic toward your own union,” the bargaining team wrote to teachers. “You are the only ones who can prove them wrong.”

In an email of her own, school board president Ellen Lindgren responded to the union’s message. She called the bargaining team’s email to teachers “inaccurate and counter-productive.” Lindgren said the email did “not work toward a viable contract and ultimately foster[ed] discord and misunderstanding among teachers.” She said some statements made by the union were “patently false.”

Lindgren asked MEA leadership to recognize that Middleton-Cross Plains was one of only three districts in Wisconsin willing to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers’ union for 2013-14.

The other 421 school districts in the state did not, she indicated. Lindgren said most created employee handbooks, rather than bargaining with teachers, and most were  “trying valiantly to maintain salaries and benefits in this day of increasing fiscal stress on public schools.”

“The ‘sky has not fallen’ and most handbooks and contracts have maintained pre-Act 10 working conditions,” Lindgren wrote. “Boards, administrations, and employees are working out differences of opinion.”

Lindgren noted conflicting court rulings and the uncertainty they created over the legal status of collective bargaining.

“The Dane County Circuit Court-Colas decision says we may negotiate, but are not required to; the Federal Court-Conrad [decision] said we should not negotiate given Act 10 legislation,” Lindgren wrote. “The recent Federal Court of Appeals ruling orders that we may not negotiate based on Act 10 and the U.S. Constitution.”

Lindgren said the board negotiated “despite” the latter rulings.

Regarding Fair Share, Lindgren took issue with the accusation of union busting. “It is unfortunate that the MEA is resorting to name-calling,” she wrote. “If we were interested in busting the union, our board would not have entered into negotiations with the union at all.”

Lindgren said the district remained open to teachers’ input regarding curriculum adoption, schedule changes, professional development and more.

She went on to say the district’s initial contract offer, which included Fair Share, was “given under a tight time frame.”  According to Lindgren, legal opinions later convinced the district Fair Share is prohibited under the provisions of Act 10.

Lindgren said according to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, “no other unions” were requesting Fair Share at the time.

Last week’s ratification of the contract shows the MEA relented on the issue. If the school board also approves the deal, the district will deduct dues only from the paychecks of teachers who sign up to remain active members of the union.

“We cannot in good conscience leave ourselves open to litigation and go against legal counsel from multiple sources on Fair Share, and force all teachers, even unwilling parties, to pay dues,” Lindgren wrote.

The MEA bargaining team then responded to Lindgren, saying both sides wanted a contract, which was something of which to be “proud.”

“We think it is fair to say that the MEA negotiating team and the [school board] have opposing viewpoints on the status of Fair Share, as well as the status of Act 10 based on not only the recent Federal Court Ruling, but the cases in the State Courts as well,” the bargaining team responded. “We are also keenly aware that our respective legal counsels have provided different interpretations of those rulings.”



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