Third Largest Wisconsin Teachers Union Goes Under
When the Kenosha Education Association and the Kenosha Unified School District couldn’t work together to use collective bargaining reforms in 2011 to stave off budget woes, layoff notices went out to 338 teachers. Now, teachers in Kenosha are walking away from the union that failed to help save the jobs of their fellow educators. The news was first reported Thursday by Mark Belling on his afternoon radio show on AM1130 WISN in Milwaukee.
“I have learned the third largest teachers union in the state, the Kenosha Education Association, has been decertified. Only 37 percent of the teachers in the Kenosha Unified School District voted to reauthorize the union in a recent vote,” Belling wrote in a statement posted online.
Collective bargaining reforms passed by Republicans in 2011 require unions to be recertified annually by a vote of their membership. Belling explained the situation writing, “Teachers can still voluntarily make contributions to the decertified union and it can represent individual teachers if they wish. The union, however, no longer has any official status in Kenosha schools.”
The MacIver Institute reports that the failed certification vote took place on August 31st. According to their report:
“KEA is the largest teachers union to disband since Act 10 was signed into law in 2011. The union had 2,400 members according to their website. Act 10 limited collective bargaining rights for public employees and required public unions to have an annual vote to recertify.”
In May of 2011, Christian D’Andrea, an education policy expert with the MacIver Institute, explained in detail how Kenosha Unified could use the collective bargaining reform tools in Act 10 to work with their teachers union counterparts to achieve badly needed cost savings. The problem was, “The local teachers’ union has rejected a call to make these concessions. The teachers pact,” D’Andrea wrote.
Kenosha School officials ended up sending out 338 layoff notices to teachers amid ongoing budget problems. A total of 212 full time teaching positions were targeted for elimination.
Even though the KEA is no longer certified as a union able to bargain on behalf of teachers, the now-defunct union appears intent on pushing the Kenosha Unified School District for a salary increase for all employees. The problem they face though is two-fold. First, they no longer have the legal authority to negotiate as a labor union, and second, the wage increase they are pushing for is more costly than what the district is willing – or perhaps even able – to pay for. “The problem, quite simply, is that it is a costlier package by a significant degree – too costly for the District to accept ‘out of hand.’” wrote one union official on the union’s website.
In May of 2013, the Kenosha Unified School District’s budget drew some attention when the education watchdog EAGNews highlighted interesting spending items that appeared in budget and spending documents. According to both EAGNews and TMJ4, KUSD spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel and resort accommodations.
To encourage teachers to stay in the union, KEA created a brochure warning teachers that their union membership would expire if they did not sign a form by August 31st. It was the inability of the union to get enough teachers to sign that form – a form certifying the union – that led to its demise.
The brochure contrasted the alleged negative shortcomings of being an at-will teacher with the supposed benefits that come from being immune to certain types of disciplinary proceedings and employer-called meetings. Apparently, not enough teachers felt the arguments were compelling enough to make membership renewal worthwhile.