AAE – Wisconsin Teachers Choose to be Non-Union

A lesson for Colorado schools in Wisconsin’s public-sector union reforms

By Ben DeGrow | November 30th, 2012

For the past couple years, Wisconsin has been the locus of the political battle to weaken public-sector union power. After Gov. Scott Walker not only survived but thrived amid a failed recall election, conservatives breathed a sigh of relief. Most prominently, the costly but decisive victory revived hopes that fiscal sanity and a sense of fairness could be restored.

Modest cuts to lavish benefits for government employees, along with some of the accompanying tools approved in Walker’s controversial Budget Repair Bill, put the Badger State back on a healthy fiscal setting and brought compensation more back in line with private sector workers.

But a new video [see above] from the Association of American Educators reminds us that the Wisconsin reforms also promoted professionalism and individual empowerment for teachers. Walker’s state left the ranks of those where union monopoly power feeds off teacher tribute payments.

While a national survey ranked Colorado teachers unions number one nationally in their status giving politically to state candidates, they are generally weaker in that they lack the across-the-board power to compel support, a power their Wisconsin counterparts once had. No state law requires Colorado teachers to join or pay dues to a union (and they have a growing number of membership options).

Nonetheless, local unions still can make it hard for members to get out. And their state lobbying arm recently beat back a legislative attempt to give teachers more flexibility and freedom.

Though bruised and bloodied in Wisconsin and a few other places, union leaders have shown no inclination to “go gentle into that good night.” Nationally they had some Election Day success with the defeats of key ballot initiatives in Idaho and of a strong education reform leader in Indiana.

Closer to home, teachers union leaders do not want to lose the power grip they have attained in Colorado. Leaders in school districts have watched with varying degrees of interest as Douglas County school board — representing the state’s third-largest district — this year ended up cutting ties with union monopoly power. At least as important, in September they established policy ending the district’s role of using taxpayer resources to collect funds for the union political machine. Next up, perhaps, will be more options for teachers.

The comparison of DougCo to Wisconsin was made last summer, as the union negotiations heated up and broke down. The comparison is bound to return in 2013 as the American Federation of Teachers and its allies aim their political cannons south of Denver in a pivotal school board campaign. It’s past time for the education reform team — those who want to expand parental choice and teacher professionalism — to wake up and get engaged.

A year from now, either reformers will celebrate Wisconsin-like success as DougCo’s cutting-edge, parent-friendly and performance-based innovation will be vindicated and begin taking hold beyond its boundaries. Or union resurgence will shut down a major path to positive change in Colorado education.

via A lesson for Colorado schools in Wisconsin’s public-sector union reforms | COLORADO.


Arbitrator sides with Dougco teachers union

An arbitrator on Monday ruled the Douglas County teachers union does not owe the school district more than $100,000 in back pay for staff members working in the union’s office.

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, at a May bargaining session with district negotiators.

The ruling drew praise from Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, who said, “We are pleased that an independent arbitrator respected the legal contract involved in the matter …. We expect that the district will respect this ruling.”

But Dougco district spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said district leaders are considering whether to accept the non-binding decision “or to pursue the promised payment by other means.”

At issue is which side is responsible for compensating teachers who’ve left the classroom to work for the union. As union staff, their jobs included providing training for district employees.

For years, the negotiated contract between the district and the union stipulated that each side would pay half of the salaries and benefits of two union leaders. In addition, the contract states the two sides will discuss each spring how to divvy up the compensation for other union employees. For 2011-12, they agreed the district pay half the costs of two additional union staff.

But that’s where the agreement ends. Emails provided by the district show Superintendent Liz Fagen approached Smith about changing the arrangement, saying she wanted to provide more accountability for taxpayer funds.

Fagen asked that the four union staff members report half of the time – the 50 percent paid by the district – to district administrators. Smith countered with a proposal that the union pay 100 percent of the employees’ costs and forgo changes in supervision.

But, Smith said, she emphasized such a change would have to be reached through negotiations.

On Feb. 6, the district billed the union for more than $237,000, or 100 percent of the union staff costs for a sixth-month period, from Jan. 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012. The district-union contract ran for a year, from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. The union said they only owed half, or $118,500.

In March, the union filed a grievance with the district, citing breach of contract, which eventually led to an arbitration hearing in June.

Smith said there was no verbal agreement to begin paying 100 percent right away and that the 50 percent figure stands because it was reached as part of the 2011-12 contract negotiations.

The arbitrator, who was selected by Dougco legal counsel Rob Ross and agreed upon by the union, agreed with Smith. In his ruling, Gary Axon wrote that “there is nothing ambiguous” about the contract language and that “the facts in this case simply do not permit an plausible contention for conflicting interpretations.”

He also noted that the district relied on talks between Fagen and Smith as its primary evidence for a change in the agreed-upon contract terms.

“The idea that President Smith’s spontaneous remark that she would be happy to pay 100 percent as constituting a legitimate offer …. is, in my judgement, an unreasonable position to take,” he wrote. “This is particularly true when the parties have a detailed and systematic system in place that controls how the collective bargaining agreements can be amended or modified.”

The dispute between the district and union was repeatedly commented upon by school board members in their public meetings, with some members stating the union owed the district money. The comments added to the already tense relations between the two sides; on July 1, the collective bargaining agreement between them expired.

Smith pointed to board members’ statements – describing them as “misinformation” – in a press release.

“We would prefer to spend our time focused on education, not dealing with repeated distractions,” she said.

Watson said the district “remains committed to being a good steward of taxpayer dollars and that includes accountability from everyone who is paid through (the district) payroll.”

“It is unfortunate that union leaders backed out of their clear commitment to pay 100 percent … since they refused to be accountable for taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Limited time to exit union for busy Colorado teachers – Public Sector Inc. Forum

Colorado is on the cusp of back-to-school time. In fact, today I dropped off my oldest daughter for her first day of first grade at the local charter school my wife and I are glad we chose. Those charter school teachers — and most of them are amazing professionals — have at least one fewer burden than their counterparts employed at neighborhood public schools down the street or across town. The nearly 5,000 teachers working under the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) collective bargaining contract, if they belong to the union, have only two weeks in which they can elect to cancel their membership and potentially save hundreds of dollars.

Jefferson County full-time teachers union members can only opt out of the $764 in annual dues deductions by delivering a written request to the union office between September 1 and 15. That’s right: just two weeks! Teachers in the state’s largest school district are not alone. Nearly 30 other district-union contracts in Colorado have their own brief time periods and procedures for revoking union membership. Deadlines range as early as August 10 (it’s already too late for Aurora teachers!) to Denver’s two-week window in November.

Still, most opt-out deadlines fall in September. In whatever kind of school they work, teachers typically find the first weeks of the academic year to be especially busy, as they get classes going, get to know their new batches of students, and build important routines. Even if a teacher has read the fine print in the collective bargaining agreement, or perhaps has visited the Independence Institute’s informative Independent Teachers website, making time to visit the union office during September often means taking time from their school or classroom duties during a high-pressure period.

Colorado educators are blessed with more professional membership options than their counterparts in other states. But for many, difficult obstacles stand in the way of exercising those options. Which makes all the more interesting last week’s news reported by Colorado Watchdog that the state’s largest teachers union has lost more than 3,000 (nearly 10 percent) of its members over the past two years. In the article, Colorado Education Association (CEA) spokesman Mike Wetzel attributed the decline to two factors: 1) a shrinking teacher workforce due to budget cuts and layoffs, and 2) an economic crunch causing teachers to feel they could not afford to pay union dues.

However, data reported by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) indicate the state had only 1,000 fewer teachers in 2011-12 than in 2009-10. Something more than budget cuts is at work here. Certainly, some educators may have found the $730 to $850 a year in union dues (depending on which district employs them) too much to handle. The state’s largest non-union teacher membership group, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), makes the case that they offer most of the benefits and none of the politics for a small fraction of the annual cost.

If teachers choose to get out of the union but don’t know about their limited opportunity to end the dues deduction, though, they may find themselves stuck paying until the next school year. That’s what happened to Denver elementary teacher Ronda Reinhardt, who contacted the union office a week too late in 2011 and now must wait for November 1 to exercise her professional membership options.

Colorado legislators earlier this year considered House Bill 1333, which would have ensured teachers could join or quit a union or any other membership organization at any time with 30 days notice. Several teachers bravely came forward to testify before a legislative committee in favor of HB 1333, none opposed. The CEA lobbyist formally objected, though, declaring the bill would undermine the state constitution’s guarantee of school board “local control.” Really? An organization ostensibly representing educators opted to back up school boards rather than the more local control of an individual’s choice.

The threadbare argument makes more sense now we have learned how badly CEA has hemorrhaged members the past couple of years. Union officials must fear that giving the opportunity to leave at any time would make the losses that much more substantial. At least for now, most Colorado teachers who want out of the union — whether they can’t afford the dues, object to the politics, or whatever — have a limited time to act. And for many, that time couldn’t possibly be busier.

via Limited time to exit union for busy Colorado teachers – Public Sector Inc. Forum.

Biz Beat: Pension reform: the next great debate?

Sharp-eyed readers no doubt noticed the flurry of public employee pension stories at over the past week. It wasn’t just coincidence.

With a report due out at the end of June on possible changes to the $77 billion Wisconsin Retirement System, the blanket coverage is warranted.

But the issue is certainly not unique to Wisconsin.

As Time magazine’s Fareed Zakaria notes in a new column, the whole concept of public worker pension plans is facing an overhaul.

“The accounting at the heart of government pension plans is fraudulent, so much so that it should be illegal,” he opines.


Zakaria, who considers himself a centrist, says promises are being made to retirees based on inflated numbers and optimistic projections.


“It’s democracy at its worst,” he writes. “Public-sector unions, powerful forces in states and localities, ask for regular pay increases. Governors and mayors can dole out only so much in salary hikes because of requirements for balanced budgets or other constraints. So instead, they hand out generous increases to pension benefits, since those costs will hit the budget many years later, when current officials are themselves comfortably in retirement.”

That’s not exactly how it works in Wisconsin, where local units of government are required to actually pay into the system as they go. But it is true that unions here have accepted pension contributions in lieu of pay for years, putting pressure on employers, aka taxpayers.

“The net effect of these retirement benefits is to starve state and local governments of funds for anything else,” Zakaria asserts.

Moreover, Zakaria notes, the issue is pitting older retirees against younger workers, the poor and students.

“The system as it is evolving is highly regressive,” he writes. “Current workers will have their salaries cut, their numbers thinned and their benefits slashed, all to maintain relatively comfortable benefits for retirees, who are on average richer than the people who are being asked to make these sacrifices. Current residents will watch their services dwindle, so that retirees — again, who are richer on average than they are — can have guaranteed generous cost-of-living increases year after year.”

Well, not all states provide cost of living increases. Wisconsin boosts benefits when the investment returns are up and cuts them when returns fail to meet assumptions.

The courts are also allowing states to cut promised cost-of-living benefits, as they did in Minnesota and Colorado.

Still, Zakaria applauds Democrats who have parted ways with public-sector unions over the pension issue.

“The real credit for courage should go to those few Democrats who are taking on these issues, even at the cost of losing support from one of their key constituencies. That includes mayors like Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Reed as well as governors like Andrew Cuomo and Pat Quinn. Sadly, they are too few and too isolated. Democrats should take note: The ideals of liberalism are now being sacrificed for the interest groups of liberals.”

Indeed, the pension issue is a conundrum for liberals of all stripes — and more fodder for conservatives who’d like to starve government until it dies.

via Biz Beat: Pension reform: the next great debate?.

School Board member tells public – it’s none of their business | Greeley Gazette

Nancy Rumfelt stepped to the podium at the Wednesday meeting of the Thompson School District Board of Education and the standing room crowd of teachers was dead quiet. The main item on the agenda was the approval of the new contract with the Thompson Education Association and Rumfelt was there to speak on behalf of taxpayers and the lack of public input before the agreement was finalized. Her request was not out of order, she simply asked the Board to give the public additional time to review the hundreds of pages of the agreement that obligate how public money be spent. In the end, one board member presented a motion to postpone their vote for two weeks – but not one other member would even second the motion and the agreement / union contract / memo of understanding or whatever you want to call it was approved by the Board.

Two others also addressed the issue of lack of time for review of this most important agreement, but not one disagreed with the concept that quality teachers deserve raises as their value increases. The new agreement is roughly 250 pages and was released for public review only one day before the scheduled Board vote. Worse still is the fact that details of the compensation package were not included in the information released for public review. So why the rush to release the terms of this agreement and bind the taxpayers to it with a Board vote before the compensation details are even made available to the people who pay the bills?

The opinion of the majority of the Board and the teachers present was very clear; it is none of the public’s business how much these public employees receive! One member of the Board, who said she was a city employee, even stated it wasn’t anyone’s business but her’s (and her boss’s) if, or how much of a raise she gets. Wow! She wants the public to be forced at the point of gun to pay her salary or lose their homes – but she thinks it is none of our business? And the teachers in that room applauded her idiotic comment.

As insulting to taxpayers as that comment was, that episode was not even the high point of arrogance for the meeting and the new TEA agreement with the district. In what could only be labeled as a transparent attempt by the superintendent and his ‘cabinet’ to buy the loyalty of the TEA (the teachers’ union) and weaken the control of the elected Board, the taxpayers are forced to pay the salary of the union’s president whose primary job it is to negotiate for the union members’ interests – not the interests of those who pay the bills. Why Rumfelt and the other speakers didn’t draw this point out is perhaps due to the fact that they hadn’t yet had time to completely review the compensation package. Clearly at least one board member recognized the conflict of interest in the union’s president being paid by the public instead of the union members.

For those who will point out the terms that call for the union to reimburse the district for “up to” about half of the president’s salary – please don’t embarrass yourself and your profession by pretending the district, paying the salary of a replacement teacher while the union president is too busy to teach, isn’t related to the ‘salary’ of your association’s president. The fact is that the public is forced to pay twice for most of the union president’s wages and benefits.

It was embarrassing enough when the TEA president tried to underhandedly correct Rumfelt and the other speakers by stating the “association” wasn’t a “union.” But it was actually insulting when a teacher in the audience commented (out of order) that they were the public too and thus implying that “the public” was represented in the negotiations. Let’s pray to God she isn’t an economics teacher.

I found myself crying for the future of our children as four little girls presented a request for a more understandable dress code.

via School Board member tells public – it’s none of their business | Greeley Gazette.

My City Council Experience With a Public Sector Union in Colorado

In November 2001 I was elected to my local city council. In January 2002 I journeyed to the state capitol where I attended a training session for newly elected municipal officials. At the coffee and donuts session prior to the start of the meeting, I overheard one of the presenters comment that “…one thing’s for sure, with 9-11 local governments are gonna have a helluva time saying no to firefighters.”  Without a doubt, some of the truest words ever spoken, at least for my city.

My four years on the council (I chose not to run again–four years was enough) were defined by my budget battles, particularly those with our fire department. At the time they were the only unionized city department and they were, individually and as a group, hostile and frequently rude to anyone who questioned budgets and spending, especially their salaries and benefits. (Since I left the police and street departments have unionized, no doubt after seeing first hand the effectiveness of unionization.) I quickly learned that they believed they had unionized common courtesy as well, as it was once “explained” to me that courtesy was “reserved” for their supporters, not their “enemies.”

The firefighters made many meetings, but especially our budget meetings, unbelievably stressful, showing up en masse and packing the room with their family members and friends. It took a couple of these meetings before I caught on to their strategy: the firefighters’ comments were generally polite (sometimes with clenched teeth, but they usually held it together pretty well), while their supporters interrupted council members (especially me) with shouts and boos.  read more

via My City Council Experience With a Public Sector Union in Colorado.

Civil Union bill clears finance panel – Pueblo Chieftain: Colorado State And Regional News

DENVER — Legal protections for same-sex couples cleared another hurdle Friday thanks to a Republican’s support.

Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, cast the deciding vote in the House Finance Committee to pass SB2, which would authorize civil unions between same-sex couples.

“It really does come down to basic protections and fairness for human beings and enjoying the benefits of this relationship,” Beezley said.  read more…

via Civil Union bill clears finance panel – Pueblo Chieftain: Colorado State And Regional News.