Members of Madison Teachers Inc. and the union face huge challenges as the beginning of the school year approaches. First there is the question of when and how to open schools safely. Second, there is the issue of properly funding the schools, including the new costs associated with protecting students and teachers from the virus. Third, there are challenges to the handbook which regulates how issues are resolved between management and the union, such as seniority which helps ensure fairness in the placement or displacement of teachers.
This week Labor Radio will focus on issues regarding the handbook and the school board. Over the next few weeks we will discuss budget and school opening issues. To get Madison teachers view of the situation Labor Radio interviewed Ed Sadlowski, the Executive Director of Madison Teachers Inc, the union representing teachers and support staff in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Sadlowski described the current state of relations between the school board and MTI.
“There’s an annual review process, but the parties had agreed to put any changes on hold with the closure of the schools back in March on May 28th, we met. Unfortunately the employer has advanced a rights stripping proposal specifically around the notion of employment security, the concepts of layoff and seniority, and how the process of layoff should it occur… And that’s caused a lot of consternation.”
The seniority system had been negotiated with the school board over the years. Sadlowski described the system noting that it was a very orderly system based on a date and the certifications and qualifications of the individual involved. He emphasized that
“The district still has managerial discretion like they always have had over which programs to fund or operate (for), the student body. So, there’s still a lot of discretion built in,”
However in Sadlowski’s view the Board is now using the seniority issue as a wedge issue.
“But the district has attempted to use this as a wedge issue between some younger teachers…, they’ve been using it as a divide between workers…. and that’s not unusual either. It is for the Madison school district, but not for union busting type employers, trying to drive a wedge between younger teachers, more recently hired [teachers] particularly teachers of color and those who have been career-oriented…. so it’s caused a great deal of anxiety. And, you know, in the height of a pandemic.”
One aspect of the board’s actions is to undermine what had been a positive relationship between the union and the School Board. As Sadlowski put it “Unfortunately, the board has done this without really any employee voice. And there’s been a long established, collaborative problem solving process that does exist in policy and in the handbook. But the district has really just engaged in surface conversations. And it just hasn’t been enough time spent on the topic nor any analysis of data. Information we’ve (MTI) requested has not been forthcoming.”
MTI has offered the district extensive counter proposals, but so far to no avail. Sadlowski also pointed out that there has been a “violation of trust” when the district bypassed the union and went directly to the membership with a survey asking if the members would forego a salary increase and accept a wage freeze in order to avoid layoffs. MTI is the exclusive bargaining agent and management is required discuss such issues with the union and not by pass the union.
Sadlowski was particularly concerned about MTI’s role in promoting diversity and ensuring that the workforce reflected the community. “I want to be very clear about something. MTI has got a long, proud tradition [of] … its members [support of] of racial social justice within the community. So we are firmly committed to the district’s efforts to diversify its workforce attracting and retaining the best and the brightest to work with Madison’s children. And that includes teachers that look and experience and have lived the same lives as the children they’re educating”
On Monday July 20, the situation may escalate as the School Board may announce that it intends to unilaterally implement changes in the handbook that will essentially eviscerate the seniority provisions mutually agreed upon and in effect for years.
MTI is urging concerned members of the community to call the school board and ask them to go back to collaborating with the teachers and their union, especially in the light of the looming budget crisis.
Photo: Titled “Collectively We Decide Procession”, image is of march with MTI signs on pickets with a banner reading ‘Collectively We Decide, United We Act’. Courtesy of Lynn Friedman on Flicker (license)