Wisconsin governor changes rule to reduce inflation-based raises for public school teachers

  • Article by: Associated Press
  • Updated: April 21, 2012 - 5:28 PM

MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker has reshaped a rule to lower inflation-based raises that public unions can negotiate for teachers in public schools and technical colleges.

The rule change wouldn't use an individual's actual salary as a "base salary" to calculate raises and would exclude factors such as a teacher's higher degree, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/J6tftW).

For instance, a teacher with a master's degree might make $45,000 a year, while a teacher in the same district with a bachelor's degree might make $35,000. A 3.2 percent cost-of-living raise on $45,000 would be $1,440 — or more than $300 more than the same raise on $35,000. Under the new rule, the teacher with the master's degree would have his or her raise calculated off the $35,000 instead of his or her actual pay.

Jocelyn Webster, the spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said the administration made changes to the rule because the original version didn't properly implement the law. The law called for excluding bargaining over merit pay and extra pay based on education, she said.

"What they clearly put into their definition of base wage was not a legal definition," Webster said.

Webster said she didn't have an estimate of how the change would affect salary increases for school districts, saying it would vary by district.

Under legislation Walker signed last year, unions' bargaining is limited to cost-of-living adjustments, and Walker's change would limit that bargaining more than the original rule proposed by his own appointees.

The rule took effect just a month after Walker put in place a program for merit increases, allowing nearly 220 state employees to receive an extra $765,000 in bonuses and merit raises.

Early last year, Walker changed state law to give him more control over administrative rules. State agencies — including those not controlled by the governor — must get his approval before writing and implementing such rules, which have the force of state law.

Walker's legislation limited any union-negotiated salary increases to the rate of inflation as applied to the employees' base salaries unless voters approved a higher increase in a referendum.

The original rule was sent unanimously to the governor's administration in February by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which oversees issues involving public employee unions and is controlled by Walker appointees.

The emergency rule as revised by the Walker administration will still be subject to eventual review by lawmakers. Walker's fellow Republicans control the Assembly, and the Senate is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Peter Davis, the longtime general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, said the change would mainly affect unions in public schools and technical colleges.

Madison labor attorney Katy Lounsbury said the rules effectively neuter teachers unions in their bargaining over salaries. She says she believes the rules violate people's rights to associate.

"It certainly seems worthy of a challenge," she said. "It penalizes members of a union."

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards said in a memo to members this month that legal challenges of the rule are likely.

That memo also noted that although the new law limits what unions may bargain over, employers can unilaterally offer higher pay with merit pay, step increases or other compensation.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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