KEA no longer bargaining agent for Unified teachers

BY TERRY FLORES
tflores@kenoshanews.com
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A union that once represented Kenosha Unified School District teachers at the bargaining table has been decertified, according to a state commission overseeing employment relations.

The Kenosha Education Association, Kenosha’s largest union, had not filed the necessary paperwork for re-certification by the Aug. 30 deadline, Peter Davis, the commission’s chief counsel confirmed Friday.

The commission would have conducted the election. To certify a union, 51 percent of eligible voters must approve authorizing the union as their bargaining representative, Davis said. The decertification now means that the district has the authority to decide what wages would be paid.

Contrary to some published media reports, however, the union did not vote to decertify.

In fact, no such election was ever held, according to KEA Executive Director Joe Kiriaki, who responded to a report from the Conservative Badger blog, which published an article by Milwaukee radio talk show host Mark Belling, who said he had learned that just 37 percent of the teachers had voted to reauthorize the union.

In a prepared statement, Kiriaki criticized the district for “promoting untrue information” to Belling.

Union chose to focus on other issues

Kiriaki said the union opted not to “jump through the hoops,” such as the recertification requirement, created by Act 10, the state’s relatively new law on collective bargaining.

The law, among other things required the annual re-certification of unions if they want to serve as bargaining representatives for teachers and other public workers. It also prohibits most public employees from negotiating all but base wages, limiting them to the rate of inflation.

Kiriaki cited a ruling by a Dane County Circuit Court judge on the constitutionality of Act 10, saying he believed it would be upheld.

Kenosha educators have a lot more on their minds they would rather focus on,” he said,

Kiriaki said he’d rather the district address school quality and the effect the district’s “Transformation Plan” has had on students.

In the state case, the judge ruled that portions of the law, including provisions prohibiting collective bargaining for base wages, payment of dues from non-union members and automatic payroll deductions for union dues, were unconstitutional. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing the ruling on behalf of the state.

The appeal is separate from the ruling of a federal court judge who earlier this week found Act 10’s restrictions to be constitutional.

Commission did not conduct election

Unified spokeswoman Tanya Ruder said the district had received confirmation of decertification of the KEA from the employment relation’s commission. She said, however, said no information was shared about an election in which the union was to have decertified.

Davis, of the employment relations commission, said he also received no information from the union that indicated that it had intended to hold an election, or even if one was held; the paperwork to the commission would simply have indicated whether there was a majority that voted in favor of the union representation.

Davis said because the union hadn’t filed, it lost its legal status as the representative for the teachers in negotiating base wages.

Union has time to respond

Last week, the district requested that the commission staff send written notification to the district that the union did not file its petition for recertification. Two other unions that also represented Unified employees — Service Employees International Union Local 168 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2383 — also did not file petitions for recertification with the commission, he said.

Notification from the commission went out to the union on Monday. The union has until Sept. 23 to file a response before formal written notice would be given to Unified.

“We’re giving the unions a chance to speak on the topic before we do anything,” Davis said.

In late August, during a union meeting, Kiriaki reported to teachers that the district and the union had been negotiating, but talks were suspended. Kiriaki has said the union would continue the discussions over base wages after this month’s Third Friday count of students, when enrollment numbers and state aid figures would be known.

Future negotiations illegal

With decertification, however, negotiations would now be prohibited.

“If the district bargained with them, that would be illegal,” Davis said.

Davis said it would not be illegal for the district to have discussions with the union or with individual teachers or hearing from members of the public.

“That input is appropriate, but they can’t bargain,” he said.

He said many districts rely on a handbook they have adopted to help guide them in the process. Unified has yet to finalize a revised handbook.

At this point, the district has unilateral jurisdiction over salaries.

“The district will have to decide what they will pay the teachers,” Davis said.

Awaiting written notice

“Once we receive formal documentation from the WERC, we will work with our board to determine how the district will move forward in this new environment,” Ruder said. “It is important to note that the work that has been done with the various employee groups to date will be honored.”

Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the parent organization of the KEA, said despite the decertification, teachers have chosen to join a union because it advocates and serves them them on a number of levels from classroom prep time to training and licensing.

“Our schools are better when everyone’s working toward the same goal, and our profession is better when everyone’s working toward the same goal — excellence,” she said in a statement.

Kiriaki said the union would still exist with or without recertification.

“Our members will focus on affecting what matters in our schools through organizing with educators, parents and the community,” he said.

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