Janesville teachers union threatens lawsuit against school board for non-negotiation. Deadline: Wednesday March 20.

Several quotes from this post are found in two new podcasts from Discover Janesville with Yuri Rashkin:
(March 14)Breaking News: Janesville School Board President Bill Sodemann responds to teachers’ union threat to sue
(March 14) Breaking News: Dr. Dave Parr speaks on Janesville teachers’ union threat to sue Janesville School District

A Janesville school union has threatened to sue the Janesville school board in an effort to bring it to the negotiation table. Initially the Janesville Education Association union on Wednesday demanded negotiation by 5PM today March 14th. That deadline has been pushed to next Wednesday March 20th 5PM per my phonecall today to Dr. Dave Parr, JEA President.

Parr said the Janesville School Board made every staff member view a video yesterday Wed. 3/13 that announced each employee would receive a contract by April 10 which would need to be signed by April 17th for the employee to avoid immediate termination. I asked Parr if I could see a copy of the video. He replied that his union was not given one, but that this document was shared with JEA in lieu of the actual video.

The contracts of 3 teacher and school staff unions in Janesville, Wisconsin will be ending as of July 1st this year and according to Parr, the school board has not been communicative – or negotiating – on 3 key matters: post-retirement benefits, healthcare benefits, and salary schedule. President of JEA Dr. Dave Parr spoke to Yuri Rashkin for Rashkin’s “Discover Janesville” podcast. If you have the time, I encourage you to give both podcasts a listen. A quote from the interview with Parr:

“Probably the biggest hang up we’re going to have is what do they want for a salary schedule. We haven’t heard a thing about that.”

On the possibility of a strike, Parr told Rashkin that his union has not considered the option of striking and he said, “That is another unclear aspect. I believe that option is available. But we haven’t even asked about that at this time.”

JEA represents 753 workers. AFSCME also represents staff in the Janesville School District such as secretarial aides.

Is the School Board forced to negotiate?
After passage of Scott Walker’s union-busting bill Wisconsin Act 10 in 2011, numerous Wisconsin school boards turned away from offering employees contracts. Instead they offered school “handbooks” with non-negotiable terms.

In an interview with Yuri Rashkin, School Board President Bill Sodemann seemed careful to not suggest that unions had standing. He emphasized that the board has listened to the school’s “members” after he was asked if he was negotiating with the school’s “unions”.

In September of 2012, Dane County circuit court judge Juan Colas found that portions of Acts 10 and 32 unconstitutionally restricted public worker rights to free speech, association, equal protection, and home rule. His decision opened the door for local public workers, school employees, and special government employees to negotiate with their employers collectively. Back in September, even that newspaper most adoring of Scott Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, printed these words in its pages:
“..The ruling means that, unless it is overturned on appeal, school districts and local officials will have to return to the bargaining table with their workers in a much more significant way.”

Following, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen requested stays on the decision twice as he awaited his day in appeals court. Two times Van Hollen’s request for a stay have been denied. Once in Colas’ own court and once again in an appeals court this week, Tuesday. Without a stay, Colas’ decision on Wisconsin Act 10 is the law of the land and collective negotiation for K-12 public teachers is back in play– assuming their unions (and union members) are willing to fight for it. Thus it is that Janesville’s public sector unions have legal standing to demand their place at the bargaining table with the Janesville School Board.

Back in January of this year, Parr urged retirement age teachers to get out in time to avoid losing benefits in this year’s contract battle. Following his announcement, 17 veteran Janesville teachers submitted their retirement notices to the School Board. He told the Janesville Gazette, “It’s clear that if you want the benefits of this contract, you have to go now”.

Who can blame a public teacher for retiring now if he or she can? The threat of Van Hollen’s appeal looms large. Also, more punishing education policy is barreling in on the state like a superstorm. I’m speaking of Scott Walker’s plan to aggressively expand publicly-funded vouchers for private schools. It’s tucked into the next budget and is so detrimental to public K-12 in Wisconsin that the historically Walker-friendly members of the WASB lobbied against it Wednesday. Meanwhile state senate majority leader Mike Ellis says the voucher plan is so objectionable, Walker couldn’t get his budget passed as-is. Walker has signaled that he will modify his voucher plan – but not chop it out.

April 15th is the deadline to decide on teacher retirements in Janesville. Parr told me he estimates that 50 JEA members are eligible to retire now and perhaps 200 of the 753 workers he represents are within 10 years of retirement age.

At the conclusion of his interview with Rashkin, Parr said “I guess we just have to push them to the table. We didn’t want to push them to the table. We wanted them to walk to the table.”

At the end of School Board President Sodemann’s conversation with Rashkin, a promise was made to present “some ideas” to the unions on Friday.

When I spoke with Parr today, I mentioned Judge Colas’ decision. I said if I were in his shoes I’d push the school board to respect Colas’ decision. Parr replied with exasperation that the School Board keeps on saying they need to “respect the law”. He paused and said, “Are they picking and choosing? Which law are they trying to respect?”

Releated resources:
Smear exposes Janesville teacher salaries, selection of “non-radical” teachers. Pro-Walker group CRG assisted – May 22, 2012

We were all ambassadors of optimism: As Goes Janesville – October 12, 2012

“I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours” – August 30, 2011


One thought on “Janesville teachers union threatens lawsuit against school board for non-negotiation. Deadline: Wednesday March 20.

  1. And all this happening in an area of the state that is run-down, left behind and just needs good teachers for its youth. Sure, the teachers are losing, but children are losing more.

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