January 26, 2022: Earlier this month, a hearing examiner for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission found that the Madison Metropolitan School District committed a “prohibited practice” by twice surveying employees represented by union Madison Teachers Incorporated about base wages in the period leading up to negotiations around pay for the 2021-2022 school year. That decision is now final. By order of the Commission, the District was required to share the decision with all of its employees represented by MTI, along with a notice signed by School Board President Ali Muldrow and Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins, Ph.D., affirming that the District won’t violate the law again in the future.
It has long been held that a survey of union-represented employees on a mandatory subject of bargaining violates the duty to bargain with the employees’ chosen representative. Since Act 10 gutted the rights of Wisconsin public sector labor unions and their members, the only subject public sector employers, like school districts, must negotiate with labor unions on is “base wages.” After the District sent the first survey, MTI, through Attorney Tamara B. Packard of Pines Bach LLP, filed its complaint with the Commission and warned the District against doing this again. Nevertheless, the District sent the survey a second time to those same employees.
Even more disturbing is that the District engaged in this same kind of behavior in the lead-up to negotiations for the 2020-2021 school year. MTI filed a prohibited practice charge then, too, which the parties settled based, in part, on the District’s commitment to respect MTI as the certified representative of the teachers, educational support staff, and substitute teachers employed by the District. In that settlement, the District also committed to bargain with MTI in good faith in the future. That settlement was reached in December 2020, yet less than 6 months later, the District engaged in the exact same illegal behavior.
As the hearing examiner explained in the January 2022 decision, this kind of behavior “is bypassing and undermining the labor organization selected by the employees to collectively bargain over that subject. It is the labor organization’s role to seek any needed employee input on a mandatory subject of bargaining—not the employer’s.”
Said Packard: “It is unfortunate that the public school district in Madison Wisconsin has engaged in a pattern of bypassing and undermining employee unions. Wisconsin’s public sector labor unions and their members have suffered greatly under decade-old union busting laws. Our local institutions and elected officials should not attempt to further silence the collective voice of its employees.” Added Jeff Knight, MTI Executive Director, “Doubly disappointing is that MTI and MMSD were able to jointly create an Employee Handbook that honors a good faith working relationship built on collaboration and consensus building. We hope this ruling persuades MMSD to return to that model for the good of its employees and the students they serve.”