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Janesville School Board, unions 'confer' but won't negotiate

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Frank Schultz
March 21, 2013

— The Janesville School Board and employee unions won't negotiate about benefits and working conditions, but they will "meet and confer" on those topics next week.

The board's decision in closed session Tuesday night is a response to a teachers union request last week to begin negotiations, said board President Bill Sodemann.

The union had threatened to sue if the district did not agree to negotiations.

Teachers union President Dave Parr hailed the decision: "It's a step forward, and that's all we really asked for."

In a letter to all three of the district's employee unions, the board said it is ready to negotiate "total base wages," as allowed under Wisconsin Act 10.

Act 10 does not allow negotiations on anything else, and the board intends that benefits and working conditions will be part of an employee handbook that only the board would approve.

The unions had complained they were not allowed enough opportunity to guide the writing of the handbook, which led to last week's ultimatum.

The teachers union had set a deadline for the board's response to its demand, which was Wednesday, March 13.

Parr said Wednesday the deadline has been suspended until after the two sides meet next week.

"As long as we're moving forward, we'll postpone it indefinitely," Parr said.

The other two unionsórepresenting clerks, aides, secretaries, maintenance, custodial and food workersódid not request negotiations, but the board sent similar letters to them, Sodemann said.

Parr said he discussed the situation with the other unions, and they are "all on the same page on what we feel is a fair and equitable agreement."

The unions and board continue to disagree about whether negotiations on matters outside of wages are possible. A Dane County judge has ruled much of Act 10 unconstitutional, but that ruling is being appealed, and the school district's labor lawyer has told officials that the ruling does not apply outside of Dane County.

The unions have said the ruling applies statewide.

Sodemann said he and school board members Kristin Hesselbacher and Kevin Murray, along with administrators, would meet with union representatives to "get feedback" on non-wage issues. The unions have indicated they have ideas that could save the district money.

"It's not negotiations, but it's more intense listening," Sodemann said.

The meeting might be Thursday, March 28, but no time had been set.

Sodemann said the board hopes to have the handbook completed well before June 15.

That's the deadline for teachers to resign with no penalty if they want to seek work elsewhere.

If the handbook can't be completed in time, the board would, in all likelihood, extend the deadline, Sodemann said.

Also Wednesday, the teachers union sent the school board a copy of a memo of understanding that other school districts have used to allow negotiations while the legal status of Act 10 remains in question.

The memo, if signed by both sides, would hold both sides harmless if they engage in negotiations, so that anything they agree to would either become part of a negotiated contract or an employee handbook, whichever instrument is deemed legal, Parr said.

Sodemann said the memo is not needed for the meet-and-confer talks, although it might be needed, conceivably, sometime in the future.

Parr agreed.



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