Teachers union requests contract talks
JANESVILLE Janesville public school teachers voted Monday night to seek contract negotiations with the school board.
This board rejected a similar request Oct. 9, but union President Dave Parr said he has received encouragement from some board members to give it another try.
A letter from the union was to be delivered to board members this morning.
Parr said the union is willing to help the district achieve savings he believes will be at least $10 million. The annual savings would come in employee contributions to their pension payments, health insurance and a change in the early-retirement plan.
The board could impose those same savings after the current contract runs out June 30, 2013, Parr acknowledged.
The state law known as Act 10, if it is upheld in the courts, would kick in next summer, taking away the union's ability to negotiate for anything except wages. The board would be free to impose all manner of changes in benefits and work rules.
But negotiating those items in a contract would help the district attract and retain good teachers, Parr said.
"Where would you rather work, where you have a say in how your workplace is or where you have no say? I would much rather work in a place where the worker is valued," Parr said.
School board President Bill Sodemann said the district is gathering input for its employee handbook, which would replace union contracts next year.
The district set up an email address to collect comments.
However, Parr said writing an email to an address set up for employee input is likely as ineffective as writing a letter to a major corporation.
Parr said the union had proposed negotiations months ago, suggesting the employee health plan be converted to an exclusive provider organization that is similar to the plan the board is now considering, Parr said.
If the board had taken the union up on its offer then, the board would not have had to dip into its reserves to balance this year's budget, Parr said.
"Perhaps we didn't make the offer clear enough" when the union renewed its request in September, Parr said.
Sodemann indicated he is interested in hearing the details, but he said he has not heard any reasons that convince him that negotiations are a good idea.
Sodemann said the board always is willing to hear what the union has to say. That's what the board said in October when it rejected the request for negotiations on a 7-2 vote, he said.
School board member Karl Dommershausen sees an advantage in at least preliminary talks. He suggested two board members could meet with union officials to discuss what the union is offering.
"They have reason to reach out—I'm not naïve, but if we could benefit by it, why wouldn't we look at it?" Dommershausen said.
The school board meets tonight in closed session to discuss, among other things, early retirement benefits and employee compensation.