By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — School officials in Madison violated Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law barring public employers from collectively bargaining with their workers when it set up new contracts with the local teachers unions, a conservative group alleged in a lawsuit filed late Wednesday.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty alleges the Madison school board, the School District and Madison Teachers Inc. all violated Walker’s law that stripped almost all public workers of their collective bargaining rights, when the parties negotiated new contracts for this school year and the next.
The school board, district and union knew they could not negotiate anything more than wage increases based on inflation under the law, the lawsuit alleges. Despite the institute’s warnings, they began negotiations for a new 2014-15 contract in September 2013 and ratified it in October. What’s more, they began negotiating a deal for the 2015-16 school year this past May and ratified it in June, according to the lawsuit.
Both deals go beyond base wage changes to include working conditions, teacher assignments, fringe benefits, tenure and union dues deductions, according to the lawsuit.
Taxpayers will be irreparably harmed if the contracts are allowed to stand because they’ll have to pay extra, the lawsuit went on to say. It demands that a Dane County judge invalidate the contracts and issue an injunction blocking them from being enforced.
“The Board and the School District unlawfully spent taxpayer funds in collectively bargaining the (contracts) and will spend substantial addition(al) taxpayer funds in implementing the (contracts),” the lawsuit said. “The (contracts) violate the public policy of Wisconsin.”
Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham told the Wisconsin State Journal the district has not received any notification of the suit.
“If and when we do, we’ll review with our team and the Board of Education,” she said.
Madison teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews defended the contracts and the negotiations that led up to them. He said in an email to The Associated Press that talking with employees is an “enlightened” way of learning about their concerns and how operations can improve.
“What the Governor has failed to recognize in his severe restriction on public employee wages and benefits is the restricted standard of living of these employees, the negative impact it has not only on their families, but also on the communities in which they reside — they no longer have the disposable income to enable the purchase of homes, home goods, clothing, automobiles and the like,” Matthews wrote. He called the lawsuit “a waste of money and unnecessary stress on District employees and the community.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke sits on the school board. She’s not named as an individual defendant in the lawsuit. Her campaign spokesman didn’t immediately return an email message.