MADISON, Wis. - The Madison Metropolitan School District's employee unions have approved new contracts that were reached through collective bargaining.
Madison Metropolitan School District Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore said that because of the recent court ruling on Act 10, the Board of Education decided that it was in the best interest of the district to collectively bargain with its employee unions.
AFSCME Local 60, which represents non-teacher union positions in the school district, approved the contract around noon Thursday.
"The main objective was to extend the contract for one more year and that we accomplished," said Richard Nelson, of AFSCME Local 60.
All seven bargaining units represented by Madison Teachers Inc. or AFSCME Local 60 have ratified one-year deals through 2014.
Nelson said with the ruling on Act 10 hanging in the balance, they had to act quickly.
"We had to assume we had a narrow window in which to negotiate an extension in our contract," Nelson said.
The new contract maintains current wages and benefits and limits the district's ability to increase health care premiums. The new agreement gives the district the ability to raise wages in the future based on the financial outlook of the district.
"We have gained flexibility in that area, and I think that is a benefit to our students and teachers as well," said Belmore. "At the same time, we've maintained our fiscal levels, our funding and monetary procedures, at the same level as they are right now."
Dane County Judge Juan Colas called parts of Act 10 unconstitutional Sept. 14. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked for a stay of that decision and, while the judge considers that request, unions are coming to the bargaining table on new contracts once unthinkable under Act 10.
Nelson said MTI and AFSCME Local 60 shared similar concerns.
"You're never really pleased if you are in a forced situation that you had to do things very rapidly and hopefully it's within the best interest of the people you're representing," Nelson said.
Belmore described the contract as cost-neutral. She said the district was able to gain flexibility while maintaining teachers' current salary, schedule and benefits.
"We were able to modify somewhat the hiring process, so we will be able to hire externally at a much sooner time. In the past, this has been a problem for us because we often miss qualified candidates and it's also an effort to diversify our workforce," Belmore said.
Nelson said if the courts uphold the ruling overturning Act 10, the union will begin the process of renegotiating its contract in the spring of 2014.
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