For the past two years, the Waupaca teachers’ union has been unable to negotiate salaries with the school board.
Although local teachers voted in 2011 to certify the Waupaca Teachers’ Association, the paperwork’s late delivery to Madison resulted in the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission not recognizing WTA as a collective bargaining unit.
“Two of the three-member panel voted to deny the certification vote and one supported the vote,” according to Mark Polebitski, WTA president. “It was amazing that the unanimous vote by the teachers was thrown out as though the voices of classroom teachers didn’t even matter.”
Polebitski said teachers still paid their dues and retained union benefits and protections.
“The one thing we were not able to do was bargain with the school board about salary,” Polebitski said after the WERC recognized WTA certification vote. “Of course, some joined and others did not. The situation as of today enables the union to sit down with the members of the school board to hammer out salary and other financial issues.”
Act 10’s impact
Since the passage of Act 10 in 2011, teachers unions have been required to recertify annually.
The law, enacted by a Republican-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor, set severe restrictions on the negotiating power of public employee unions.
Among Act 10’s restrictions, unions can only collectively bargain for salary increases based on inflation. And they may no longer automatically withdraw dues from members’ paychecks.
In 2012, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas struck down parts of Act 10 as unconstitutional. In October, Colas held the WERC in contempt for enforcing the elections in other parts of the state.
Act 10 is currently before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which recently vacated Colas’ contempt ruling, thereby allowing union certification elections to proceed.
Several unions, including the unit which represented teachers in Kenosha, failed to win their recertification elections.
Waupaca teachers vote
To win a certification election, the union must also obtain 51 percent of the votes of the total membership, not just of those who cast votes.
“The difference is that a ballot not cast is counted as a No. Did you ever hear of a vote not being cast to be counted as a No?” Polebitski asked. “If that should truly be the rule, then those who didn’t vote in the general recall election would register No and present Governor Walker would not be in office.”
The question on the ballot for the WTA was, “Do you want representatives of the Waupaca Teachers’ Association to have the ability to meet face to face with the school board for purposes of collective bargaining?”
Out of a total of 182 teachers, Waupaca voted 116-8 in favor of the WTA.
“There was an overwhelming majority of the teachers who want this.” Polebitski said. “Collective bargaining has been a success for over 50 years in the state of Wisconsin. Teachers realize the value of dialog, they believe it works, and want to continue.”
What the future holds
Waupaca District Administrator Dave Poeschl said WTA’s certification will have little effect on how the school board will communicate with staff.
“It simply means we will now have a teachers’ representative at the table,” Poeschl said. “During the interim, while there was no certified bargaining unit in Waupaca, the board did not make changes to early retirement benefits, did not make changes to the salary schedule structure and gave teachers the largest salary increases allowed by statute.”
Polebitski said he does not fault the school board for their directives.
“The master agreement between the WTA and the school board was changed to a handbook which includes most of the previous agreed to language,” he said. “As a group the WTA never lost the ability to represent the teachers of Waupaca and in fact have been diligently working on a daily basis for the betterment of students, workers and citizens of the Waupaca School District.”
Both Poeschl and Polebitski said ongoing communication between the board and staff is the best way to move forward.
“There is no advantage to anyone when an adversarial system run amok has been forced on all of us,” Polebitski said. “We look forward to positive dialog, better working relations with the board and administration, and if we are successful, a healthier educational environment for all students.”