The membership of Madison Teachers Inc. turned out in force Wednesday to ratify a one-year contract, extending their collective bargaining rights through the 2014-2015 school year, says the union’s executive director John Matthews.
The contract with the Madison Metropolitan School District includes an across-the-board wage increase of 0.75 percent, which can be increased when the school district maps out its budget next year, Matthews stresses.
But in the post-Act 10 environment, as public workers throughout the state await resolution to legal challenges to Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 measure stripping most of their collective bargaining powers, it is the worker security the contract brings that is most important, Matthews says.
MTI represents teachers, educational assistants and other workers in five separate bargaining units. Matthews estimated that 2,000 of the 4,800 total membership cast ballots in the ratification vote, the largest turnout in recent years.
Following a “nearly unanimous” vote in favor of ratifying the contracts, Matthews says remarks and messages from members expressed “relief that they can now concentrate and do their jobs because of their employment security and economic security.”
The contract does not “take back” any benefits, Matthews says. However, it calls for a comprehensive analysis of benefits that could include a provision to require employees to pay some or more toward health insurance premiums if they do not get health care check-ups or participate in a wellness program.
Ed Hughes, president of the Madison School Board, said that entering into labor contracts while the legal issues surrounding Act 10 play out in the courts was “the responsible thing to do. It provides some stability to do the important work we need to do in terms of getting better results for our students.”
Hughes pointed out that the contract establishes a half-dozen joint committees of union and school district representatives that will take up issues including teacher evaluations, planning time and assignments. The contract calls for mediation on several of the issues if the joint committees cannot reach agreement.
“Hopefully this will be a precursor of the way we will work together in years to come, whatever the legal framework is,” Hughes said.
Matthews, too, was positive about the potential of the joint committees.
“The school district being willing to listen and give teachers equal voice is very important,” he said. “Employers who dictate usually have disgruntled employees who are therefore not very productive employees.”
The Madison school board is expected to formally approve the contract Monday.