Teachers unions may seek to restore benefits

Hamilton School District awaits interpretation of court action

Sept. 25, 2012

In the wake of a ruling that struck down Act 10, local school districts plan to wait and see what the decision will mean for them. In the meantime, some teachers unions are gearing up to restart negotiations to reinstate benefits lost since the implementation of Act 10.

The controversial measure was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators in 2011. On Friday, a Dane County Circuit Court judge deemed the law unconstitutional.

The surprising and unexpected court ruling drew quick condemnation from the governor's office. The decision could force local school districts - many of whom are finalizing their budgets for the year - to reopen contract negotiations with employees and rehash budgets.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced Saturday he plans to seek court permission to keep enforcing Act 10, which stripped the state's public employees of their previously held collective-bargaining privileges. His office also planned to appeal the ruling.

The governor's office announced plans for its own appeal of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas's decision. The final decision will likely end up before the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In the ruling announced last week, Colas said the law violates both the state and federal constitutions, writing that sections of the bill "single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States constitutions."

The judge also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.

Bargaining units representing some teachers in the area plan to immediately begin their push to reinstate benefits lost since the implementation of Act 10.

Steven Cupery of Lakewood Uniserv Council, which represents teachers from the Oconomowoc and Kettle Moraine school districts, said he'll begin pushing districts to the bargaining table this week.

"We'll certainly be making the demand and request to districts that they now sit down and negotiate a full range of contractual issues with their employees through their newly elected representatives, just as police and fire continue to have those same rights," he said.

The decision threatens to upset the host of changes school boards have made to pay and benefits for school district employees. Act 10 allowed for collective bargaining only on wage increases, which could rise only to the level of inflation. Despite the possibility that those unions may push to scale back some of the changes brought about by Act 10, local school districts planned to proceed on the same course until they hear differently.

"We have attorneys from the school board association, the superintendent association, our own legal counsel, reviewing the situation today, and they are going to keep us informed," Hamilton School District Superintendent Kathleen Cooke said on Monday. "We really don't know the implications, and the WERC (the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission) also will likely be weighing in on this, so we have not yet heard."

She added "as we have more information, we will process and make decisions accordingly, but right now through this we're going to just continue to do what we're supposed to do."

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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