MADISON, Wis. – School boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to reach agreements with unions before a new law takes effect that will remove their ability to collectively bargain over nearly all issues other than minimal salary increases.
Secretary of State Doug La Follette said Monday he decided to delay publication of the law until the latest day possible, March 25, to give those local governments as much time as possible to reach agreements. The law doesn't take effect until the day after La Follette publishes it.
Gov. Scott Walker had asked La Follette to publish the law on Monday, but the Democratic secretary of state, who called the new law the biggest change in labor management history in 50 years, said he didn't see any emergency that warranted him doing that.
La Follette said he heard from many schools, cities and counties urging him to delay enactment of the law as long as possible. Waiting the full 10 days afforded under the law is the usual practice of his office anyhow, La Follette said.
The law is also being challenged in court. A hearing on that lawsuit, brought by the Democratic Dane County executive, was scheduled for Wednesday. A request for an emergency injunction to block the law was rejected on Friday.
The new law would not affect collective bargaining agreements that are already in place, which is fueling the decision by unions to reach deals as quickly as possible.
The law ends collective bargaining for public workers over everything except salary increases no greater than inflation. It also forces state workers to make benefit concessions that amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average.
Walker is proposing a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan that would take effect in July. He argued that because of that, districts needed to get more money from their employees to help mitigate the loss in aid.
Walker also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases.
If districts lock in deals with unions that don't have concessions to help make up for the aid cuts, that could force them into making "mass layoffs," said Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is telling districts to be cautious about approving contracts that will make it more difficult for them to handle the cuts in aid Walker is seeking. Since Walker unveiled the bill on Feb. 11, between 50 and 100 of the state's 424 districts have approved deals with unions, said Bob Butler, an attorney with the association.
The vast majority of them included benefit concessions consistent with what Walker proposed under the new law, Butler said.
The Madison school board met in a marathon 18-hour session Friday night to reach an agreement with the local teachers union to approve a new contract that runs through mid-2013.
That agreement freezes wages and requires the same pension contribution as state workers will be required to pay starting later this month under the new law. It also allows the district to require health insurance premium contributions up to 5 percent in the first year of the deal and up to 10 percent in the second year.
Several other local governments have also pushed through contracts in the past month ahead of the new law.
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