At the request of both the Milwaukee school district and teachers union, Wisconsin legislators approved a bill extending to the district the same policies that prompted union-backed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, the lieutenant governor, and four state senators.
In response, the presidents and executive directors of union locals for the state’s largest school districts outside Milwaukee wrote a letter to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association expressing their “grave concern” that supporting the legislation to help Milwaukee fill a massive budget gap could endanger the recall efforts.
“Such legislation will enable Governor Walker to claim victory of his policy to rein in public employee wages and benefits,” the letter says. “Allowing Governor Walker to make such a claim just before the recall election will prove detrimental to recalling him.”
The union leaders also wrote Milwaukee’s example could prompt their own districts to seek similar economic help from the legislature.
“The level of cynicism apparent in this letter is appalling,” said the state Assembly’s Assistant Majority Leader, Dan Knodl (R-Germantown). “It seems Big Labor would rather see Milwaukee teachers laid off and funding cut from children’s classrooms than miss an opportunity to score points against Gov. Walker.”
Avoiding Layoffs, Improving Education
The bill, which Walker has said he will sign, allows the Milwaukee school district and MTEA to reopen negotiations on their contract without canceling it. The district will have trouble paying a $10 million pension payment without laying off teachers if it can’t renegotiate to cancel a scheduled pay raise, for example.
“I stand with MPS and MTEA in their efforts to avoid teacher layoffs and improve education,” Walker said, explaining why he would sign the bill.
In March 2011, Walker cut state school spending to help fill a $3 billion deficit, promoting Act 10’s restrictions of collective bargaining to wages as a means for school districts to fill the difference in their budgets.
Unlike many Wisconsin school districts, Milwaukee did not require its employees to pay more for health insurance or anything toward pensions—it had rushed to close contract negotiations before Act 10 went into effect. At the time, the school district said using the measures in Acts 10 and 65 would have prevented them from laying off 200 teachers.