Act 10 Status Update and “A Tale of Two Cities”

Recent Court Activity

Act 10, which, among other things, greatly curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees, was signed into law by Governor Walker on March 11, 2011. Since then there have been several court challenges to the law. Act 10 has been in the news again lately, as a recent Court of Appeals decision denied Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s attempt to stay a Dane County Court order which determined that certain parts of Act 10 were invalid. Importantly, this was not a decision on the merits. The State’s appeal of Judge Colas’ decision is still under consideration, and for now the Dane County ruling stands; whether it applies to areas outside of Dane County is uncertain, and whether some or all of it will be overturned is unknown.

So for the moment there is no change in the status of the law – the operative word for local school districts and municipalities is uncertainty.

Background

In Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker, the Dane County circuit court invalidated the provisions of Act 10 that:

  • Prohibited municipalities from bargaining matters other than base wages.
  • Required a referendum to raise wages beyond the CPI (consumer price index).
  • Required unions to recertify annually and required a majority vote from all employees (need only a majority of those voting).
  • Prohibited “fair share” agreements.
  • Prohibited payroll deductions to collect union dues.

In a section affecting only the City of Milwaukee, Judge Colas also ruled the City has the right to local control of its own pension system.

Tale of Two Cities

As a result of the Dane County decision, some unions have approached school districts and municipal employers demanding that they begin negotiations as if Act 10 never existed, and some local governments and school districts have treated unions like they don’t exist.

In the meantime, local governments can perhaps take some caution and advice from the way two school districts and teachers unions have taken different approaches to this uncertainty.

In Janesville, the school district and the teacher’s union have, apparently, dug in their heels and are ready for more court challenges. The Janesville teachers union has demanded that the Janesville school board begin negotiations, and has threatened legal action if the board refuses. The board told teachers they must sign individual contracts or face termination. How this will play out is anyone’s guess. See Janesville GazetteXtra, “Teachers Union Threatening to Sue Janesville School Board,” March 14, 2013; and Wisconsin Public Radio News, “Janesville Teachers Union Threatens School Board Lawsuit,” March 15, 2013.

The Hudson school district and teachers union have taken a different approach. In 2011, shortly after enactment of Act 10, the Hudson school district created an advisory committee consisting of administrators and teachers. This committee worked on an employee handbook, and on other areas of employee relations, such as teacher evaluations, benefits, and salary structure. In the end, the board implemented much of the advice of the committee, and no one is threatening to sue anyone. See Hudson Star Observer, “HSD Teacher Advisory Committee gets Nod from Teachers,” March 21, 2013.

Perhaps the best policy advice to be gleaned from this is that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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