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Local Spotlight: Wisconsin Heights teachers organize for fair compensation

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, from time to time, I’ll be sharing news about what’s happening in our AFT-Wisconsin local unions.  Today, I want to shine a spotlight on the efforts of members of AFT local 1917, the Wisconsin Heights Federation of Teachers, to improve teacher compensation in their district.  Earlier this summer, union members learned that the district administration would be bringing a proposal for a compensation plan to the school board.  The initial plan had some good elements, but members saw several points that they felt could be improved, particularly in ensuring that all teachers received a substantial supplemental pay boost, rather than only a few.  So negotiations team members Kristi Royston-Brabender, Bree Wilhelmson, Becky Nimmow, and Melissa Hill decided to organize for a voice in the process.

Several members attended the next school board meeting and asked the board to slow the process down to allow meaningful input from the district’s teachers through a meet-and-confer process, and the board agreed.  WHFT members worked to recruit their coworkers to attend the next meeting, and over a third of the teachers came, showing the district that teachers were engaged and organized.  In the meeting, district staff stressed the importance of equity—all teachers have been hit hard over the last few years, and if the district is going to recruit and retain the best teachers possible, the district’s supplemental pay plan would need to give a boost to every teacher in the district.  Both union leaders and board members felt that the meeting was very productive, and the district held a second meet-and-confer session with the teachers later that month to discuss alternative compensation plans that took into account the teachers’ suggestions for recruitment and retention.

As a direct result of union members’ organized action, the district voted to approve a pay plan that, combined with base wage negotiations, will give every teacher in the district a raise of between 2.5% and 5%.  Furthermore, both union members and school board members pointed to the process as a model for collaboration in other areas beyond compensation.  Leaders in the local see these meetings as a very positive development in the district, and plan to continue to work with the board and administration to improve compensation and work on other important issues.

I’m proud to be a part of the same union as the WHFT, and I’d like to congratulate members of the local on their success.  (Please see below for the press release that we issued with the WHFT about their outstanding efforts.)  If you’ve got a suggestion for a future local spotlight, please write me at president@aft-wisconsin to let me know.  And click here to sign up to take action like this in your own workplace!

In solidarity,

Kim Kohlhaas

President, AFT-Wisconsin

 

WISCONSIN HEIGHTS SCHOOL DISTRICT A MODEL FOR LABOR-MANAGEMENT COLLABORATION ON COMPENSATION

Mazomanie, WI: Following the ratification of a base wage collective bargaining agreement and the approval of a supplemental pay plan by the Wisconsin Heights School District Board of Education, members of the Wisconsin Heights Federation of Teachers (WHFT) expressed satisfaction with the new collaborative approach taken between the district and teachers in determining compensation. The WHFT negotiations team and the district concluded negotiations over base wages this week with successful votes by WHFT membership and the district board to ratify a tentative agreement reached earlier this month. While Wisconsin law limits formal negotiations to so-called “base wages” only, the contract ratification votes represented the culmination of one portion of a much larger collaboration between union members and the district on teacher compensation.  In this process, WHFT members worked with the district board and administration over the summer to develop a new, comprehensive compensation structure for the district’s certified staff. “Since the passage of Act 10, too many districts have tried to ignore the voices of their teachers,” said Kristi Royston-Brabender, a first grade teacher at Black Earth Elementary who served as the chief negotiator for the WHFT. “I believe that the process that our members, our administration, and our board have built together to address compensation shows the value of meaningful collaboration. I hope that other districts will look to what we’ve done as a model for giving teachers a seat at the table in these important discussions.”

Throughout the negotiations process, both parties discussed base wages as they related to issues of recruitment and retention, treating formal negotiations as one part of a larger compensation structure. Between bargaining sessions, the WHFT negotiations team organized teachers to attend meet-and-confer sessions with the district to discuss non-negotiable issues like pay progression and longevity increases. “We worked with the district to identify common interests and common concerns, and then discussed how we could make the best use of the resources available,” said Royston-Brabender. “The end result is a total compensation plan that Wisconsin Heights teachers, through our union, were able to have a meaningful say in developing.”

The collaborative process was praised by AFT-Wisconsin President Kim Kohlhaas as an example of how public sector employers can work with their employees to address important issues. “I’m proud of what the members of the Wisconsin Heights Federation of Teachers accomplished here,” said Kohlhaas, an elementary teacher in the Superior School District. “I congratulate our members on their successful efforts, and I’d also like to commend the Wisconsin Heights School District for their meaningful collaboration with their staff. Other districts and public sector employers should look to Wisconsin Heights to see a great example of how we can work together to address important issues.”