Madison schools, city move ahead on new union contracts

Madison School Board decides to bargain immediately
Madison schools, city move ahead on new union contracts

Thousands of Madison public sector employees could benefit as the city and school district both moved closer to new union contracts Monday, something that the state’s controversial collective bargaining law aimed to prevent.

City alders were unanimous in the first of two votes on a new contract with the city’s largest union. Meanwhile, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education decided in closed session to begin bargaining with all of its employees immediately.

“We were totally surprised — pleasantly surprised,” said John Matthews, executive director at Madison Teachers Inc. “We have a very short window here to accomplish this, and we need to take advantage of that and make sure we get it done.”

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.

Matthews said he didn’t know what he’d ask for during negotiations with the school district, and that members were taking surveys this week on the importance of various issues.

Wages, benefits and the school calendar were all on the table, he said. While Matthews said it was unlikely that Colas would issue a stay of his original ruling, he said a new contract would need to be in place soon in case it happened.

The teachers’ current contract runs through June 2013.

Meanwhile, at a city Board of Estimates meeting, none of the nearly 15 alders present voiced opposition to a new contract with AFSCME Local 60.

The union, which represents 1,100 workers, would allow the city to reduce wages by 3 percent in 2014 so it can avoid layoffs.

“We’d like to continue the quality of life that the citizens of Madison currently enjoy,” said Tim Birkley, vice president of the bargaining unit. “The prospect of mass service cuts would equate to not only job losses for us, but any job loss for us is a service loss for them.”

Mayor Paul Soglin said the Local 60 deal, which will get a full Madison Common Council vote on Thursday, means $900,000 in savings for the city. Deals are also in the works with the city’s other bargaining units and that could push the savings to $2.5 million, he said.

“What’s critical here is that we have a commitment between city government and the bargaining unit to not reduce services to the public,” Soglin said.

Soglin said the city would try to avoid furloughs because they often result in more overtime for other employees and sometimes result in service reductions.

Last week, Dane County also agreed to a new contract with AFSCME, in which the union agreed to 1.9 percent wage cuts. The deal would save $5 million, county leaders said.