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Under Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 changes to curtail collective bargaining for most public employees, teachers and many other public workers are now paying more for pensions and health care.
But a chain email making the rounds alleges that Walker quietly -- and drastically -- cut salaries even more for the best-educated teachers in April 2012 with the stroke of a pen that changed an administrative rule.
The claim made the rounds after a highly confusing episode in which Walker reshaped a rule, thereby lowering by some 30 percent the inflation-based raises that public unions can negotiate under Act 10, which included Walker’s limits on unions.
The rule change would not use an individual's actual salary as a "base salary" to calculate raises and would exclude factors such as whether a teacher has a graduate degree, the Journal Sentinel reported on April 20, 2012.
Days later, the chain email began -- subject line: Scott Walker and Max teacher Pay -- making the rounds. It echoed allegations by a top labor leader, Marty Beil, that Walker’s rule went even further -- actually drastically cutting the base salaries in question.
Readers asked us to get to the bottom of the email, which began:
"I have some heart-stopping news that I believe has devastating
consequences for all active and retired public employees."
The email said the rule would prohibit school districts from including add-on pay for advanced degrees in the wage scales written into any of its labor contracts. It claimed teachers would be hit the hardest, even providing an example -- Sarah Teacher.
"Let’s say Sarah Teacher has a Masters degree, 24 hours of college credit and 12 years experience. The most Sarah can be paid under her current contract is $52,927.
"Under the new rule, the maximum Sarah will be able to earn in future contracts is $38,167, the maximum for a teacher who has the minimum educational requirements but many years of experience."
The email claimed Sarah Teacher's salary will be "slashed by a third" -- perhaps even more as cash-strapped districts squeeze staff even tighter.
What’s really going on?
Walker’s union legislation blocks school districts from including educational add-on pay in labor contracts. So it wasn’t the more recent rule change that did that.
In addition, there is no dispute the rule change limits the size of the pool for wage increases that school districts and unions will negotiate over.
So, in this item, we’ll focus on the heart of the email’s claim -- that Walker’s action mandated big pay cuts for teachers.
We talked to lawyers with the employment relations commission, which approved Walker’s modification of the rule. We also consulted with a labor lawyer and examined statements by labor officials.
They all agreed: The rule does not cut the current wages of teachers -- or require or direct that to happen.
The power to set salaries lies with local school districts, not Walker or the employment relations commission.
Some argue the rule makes it much easier for local districts to make big cuts.
This comes down to where the starting point is set for public employees. Act 10 prohibited bargaining over pay schedules -- those grids that award teachers additional pay based on higher education and seniority. It left intact bargaining over inflationary increases to base wages -- the salary level not including educational bonuses and other add-ons.
The first version of the rule -- before Walker’s changes -- made clear that a teacher’s current total salary would be the starting point.
Walker’s changes in the rule put that in doubt, with experts disagreeing on how this will play out.
Some say the new rule makes it easier for school officials to cut into existing salaries without any collective bargaining.
But they say districts also will be free -- outside of narrow labor talks on inflationary raises -- to give teachers additional pay for higher education outside any labor contract. That could make teachers "whole" if districts chose on their own, outside of labor talks, to honor previous pay for higher education.
The other camp says the new rule does not mean current salaries can be ignored when unions sit down with management to discuss wages.
Eventually, the employment relations commission or a court will likely have to settle that issue, which also affects technical college teachers.
A chain email says an administrative rule modified by Gov. Scott Walker amounted to him slashing teacher salaries.
We can’t predict the future, so there is no way to know how individual districts will approach teacher pay in the years ahead under this rule and Act 10.
But it’s clear that the rule Walker reshaped does not give him authority over base pay, and does not mandate pay cuts for teachers.
We rate that claim False.
Chain email, "Scott Walker and Max Teacher Pay," April 26, 2012
Phone interview with Peter Davis, general counsel, Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, May 9, 2012
Phone interview with James Scott, chairman, Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, May 9, 2012
Email interview with Christina Brey, spokesperson, Wisconsin Education Association Council, May 9, 2012
Phone interview with Timothy Hawks, labor law attorney, May 9, 2012
Phone interview, Dan Rossmiller, government relations director, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, May 8, 2012
Memorandum, Dissenting Vote of (WERC) Commissioner Judith Neumann, March 30, 2012
Madison Teachers Inc., "Only in Walker’s World," blog post, April 27, 2012
The Progressive, "Walker Slashes Workers’ Cost of Living Increases," April 26, 2012
Wisconsin Legislative Council, Collective Bargaining on Base Wages for General Municipal Employees, May 2, 2012
Sly in the Morning show, interview with Marty Beil, April 25, 2012
Uppity Wisconsin, blog post, April 25 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "New state rule would limit cost-of-living increases for teachers," April 20, 2012
2011 Wisconsin Act 10, 111.70 (4) (mb) Prohibited subjects of bargaining
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