The present condition of politics in education is gloomy. School workers report high levels of stress, health problems, and thoughts of abandoning their career. Many pinpoint the source — a lack of respect for the profession that has become the new normal. However, on September 28th, a ray of hope broke its way through the malaise. The Madison Metropolitan School District Employee Handbook is evidence of what the right couldn’t take. The right couldn’t take away our voice or the spirit of our collaborative nature. Act 10 may have limited our legal scope, but there is still power in a Union.
The employee handbook was a result of workers and employers sitting down at the table together to map out a path for the future of our students, our schools, and our workers. One of the most powerful aspects of this handbook is that it outlines a grievance procedure which mandates a mutually selected independent hearing examiner. Due to provisions in Act 10, decisions made by the examiner can be appealed to the Board of Education (BOE), but even that process is limited. When making a decision, the BOE may only review the current record created during the original hearing. This clause respects the authority of the independent hearing examiner to the greatest extent possible under Act 10.
Also within the handbook is a process for its modification. The handbook cannot be modified without the joint employer/employee committee coming back together to make a recommendation to the board. This follows a procedure similar to the process used to create the original handbook. It honors collaboration and emphasizes the importance of workers’ voices in the workplace.
While the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) employees’ contracts will expire in June of 2016, the benefits and security contained within will not. 4700 employees will maintain:
- Weingarten Rights: the right to be represented by a union when threatened with discipline
- Current salary schedule, benefits, and sick leave
- Planning time that is essential to serving our students
- Teachers’ Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP)
- Seniority during times of surpluses and layoffs
- Just cause and due process
This 304 page document defines common language for the five Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) units it represents, as well as for AFSCME and workers in the Building Trades. While the document is lengthy, it also encompasses school district policies and procedures.
During the 2011 protests and the occupation of our state Capitol, there was a sign in the teachers’ corner. This sign listed what Collective Bargaining means for teachers. When I look through our handbook, I cannot help but smile. Comparing this list to the items protected by our new handbook gives me hope for our future.