Middleton Teachers Union Files Suit, Claims District Bargained In Bad Faith

After three days of failed negotiations in mid-March, the Middleton Education Association has filed a lawsuit against the Middleton-Cross Plains School District claiming that the officials didn’t bargain in good faith.

The negotiations come in the aftermath of the contentious political battles at the state Capitol pertaining to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, which stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

Relations between Middleton school officials and union representatives appear to be heated.

“We don’t trust them,” said Middleton Education Association attorney Willie Haus. “They have not earned one iota of our trust.”

District officials said that contract changes are about reducing costs.

“Over the past contract term of two years, the district has incurred arbitration expenses in excess of $240,000,” said School Board President Ellen Lindgren. “We didn’t want to keep going to court and spending taxpayer dollars on lawyers when it could be put in classroom teachers’ pockets.”

MEA officials claimed that, unlike other area school districts that agreed to contracts with fiscal concessions, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District presented a contract that would require fiscal concessions in addition to making other changes to the contract.

“They act like (Gov. Scott) Walker’s law is already in place, and they are going to take full advantage of it,” Haus said.

Haus said there were more than 120 deletions in the proposed contract, such as eliminating just cause for discharge or non-renewal notices and the elimination of third-party arbitrators. It does add an extra step of a grievance officer, but the school board will have the final say in the grievance process.

On Tuesday, the district sent out a letter in response to the lawsuit filed.

“The complaint filed by Attorney Haus and the MEA leadership is further evidence that the union approach to resolving disagreements is to preemptively file actions in court rather than resolving disputes locally,” said Lindgren.

District leaders said they first learned of the lawsuit in the media — something some parents said didn?t feel right.

“I don’t have an opinion, I guess, either for or against the school board or the teachers’ union, but I do feel it would have been more appropriate for the teachers’ union’s lawyers to let the school board know before they publish it or let it out to the news media,” said Erinn Kruser, a parent.

The district also has a contract proposal explanation on its website. The district estimated that it will receive $3.5 million less under Walker’s proposed budget. It said even with the fiscal concessions the budget repair bill offers, the district would still face a shortfall of $600,000.

The district said the proposed contract allows it to be able to cover those additional costs without losing the existing quality of excellence in the district.

But Haus argued that the district needs to negotiate under the current law. He said that the budget repair bill has not been published, though that debate continues in separate litigation, and until the law is passed, the district is obliged to negotiate using collective bargaining rights that go beyond fiscal concerns.

“We are willing to continue negotiations in the event that there is clarity regarding our legal authority to negotiate. The Board, however, views the complaint by the Middleton Education Association as frivolous and without merit,” the Middleton-Cross Plains School Board said in a statement.

Haus said they will revisit negotiations if the district adheres to collective bargaining rights that they have negotiated contracts with in the past.

The district now has 45 days to respond to the complaint.