Only 305 Wisconsin school districts’ unions sought recertification this November, dropping from 408 that did the year before. Additionally, state employees voted to decertify 25 school district unions.
Under Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which went into effect in 2011, recertification requires a 51 percent “yes” vote from eligible union members. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) must hold annual recertification elections for unions associated with school districts under the Act 10 reforms. If a union fails to achieve recertification, it loses the power to bargain collectively.
Elections were held from November 5th to 25th this year, and members were able to vote by phone.
When Gov. Scott Walker (R) first announced the proposal for the Budget Repair Bill, he was met with strong opposition. Protests broke out after the bill was passed, and some union representatives are still criticizing it.
“Through the reforms enacted in Act 10, we have saved state taxpayers more than $3 billion,” Laurel Patrick, press secretary for the Office of Gov. Scott Walker, told School Reform News. “Schools now have the flexibility to hire and fire based on merit, they can pay based on performance, which means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and pay to keep them there.”
Unions Push for Support
Many unions took to Facebook to encourage their members to vote for recertification. AFSCME Milwaukee District Council 48 reminded its members that employees were entitled to three hours of unpaid leave in order to vote. Among the consistent union updates on social media were pictures of children holding up signs begging people to show up and vote.
The voting reminders didn’t pay off for some of Wisconsin’s largest local teachers unions.
According to the MacIver Institute, the largest union to lose its recertification vote was Appleton Substitute Teachers Association. Only 45 percent of its members—122 of 270—voted in the union’s favor. The second largest union to lose its vote was the Elkhorn Education Association, which received 43 percent “yes” votes from its members. IUOE Local 420, a union representing engineers at Milwaukee Public Schools, also lost its vote, receiving 45 percent support, resulting in decertification.
Walker’s Opposition Continues
Walker’s reforms have continued to face opposition, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently upheld Act 10. In a 5-2 decision, on July 31, 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed claims Act 10 violated rights to equal protection and free association.
Union officials can bargain salary only at the base level under Act 10, meaning raises and bonuses or any other aspect of salary negotiation is not possible. Also, the increase cannot surpass inflation. The state and municipalities are prohibited from deducting union dues from any employee’s paycheck.
Before Act 10, most Wisconsin public employees had pensions paid partly if not entirely by government municipalities. Now state employees split the pension costs equally with employers. This does not apply to Milwaukee city and county employees, however, because they have pension systems separate from the state’s. According to Walker, most of the savings created by Act 10 come through decreased health insurance and pension costs. State employees now have to share in health care premiums as well as pension contributions. Under Act 10, state employees must pay for at least 12 percent of their health care premiums, though the law still grants employers flexibility to change benefits. The ability to adjust benefits offered to employees will enable the state to save money in the future, Walker says.
Increasing Savings, Lowering Unemployment
School districts have saved $200 million in the between 2011-12, the first year Act 10 was passed, in health insurance costs, according to Walker, due to employees paying higher health care and pension premiums. He also says the state government has saved $482 million overall on health insurance costs in the last two years.
Wisconsin benefited from more than $2 billion in tax relief, lowering the state’s unemployment rate from 7.4 to 5.7 percent as 116,000 jobs have been created and state tax revenue has grown since 2011, when Walker came into office, according to a Forbes.com article.
Diana-Ashley Krach ([email protected]) writes from Lake Worth, Florida.
Image by WisPolitics.com.
“100 Fewer Wisconsin School District Unions Seek Recertification Under Act 10,” MacIver Institute, Dec. 1, 2014: http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2014/12/100-fewer-wisconsin-school-district-unions-seek-recertification-under-act-10/