Teachers across Wisconsin took to the streets, and to the state capitol, to protest Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to scale back public employees’ collective bargaining rights and cut their pension benefits.
Educators in a number of school districts also called in sick, forcing the cancellation of classes, the Associated Press reported. The 24,000-student Madison school district was forced to close for at least two days last week, because of staffing shortages.
The Republican governor’s proposal would restrict collective bargaining for most state and local employees to wage issues, limit contracts to one year, freeze wages until contracts are approved, and not require union members to pay dues. The governor also wants to require state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of salary toward their pensions and pay for about 12 percent of their health-care benefits.
“We have both an economic and a fiscal crisis in this state,” Mr. Walker said at a news conference last week. Wisconsin faces a projected two-year budget gap of $3.6 billion.
The 98,000-member Wisconsin Education Association Council is fighting the proposal, and teachers staged rallies across the state. State Democratic lawmakers, who blocked action on the governor’s measure in GOP-led legislature by refusing to show up for a vote.
Union president Mary Bell said that Mr. Walker’s goal was to “abandon Wisconsin’s long tradition of teamwork” that has worked for schools and children.
While teachers’ pension and health benefits are negotiated locally and vary across the state, districts often cover all pension costs, according to WEAC, a provision the union argues helps offset relatively low wages.
Wisconsin is not the only state where proposals affecting educators have stirred strong reactions.
In Idaho, Republican state schools chief Tom Luna is pushing a proposal to limit teacher collective bargaining, cut hundreds of teaching jobs over time, and raise class sizes. Mr. Luna awoke one morning last week to find the tires on his truck slashed. A spokesperson also said that a person who identified himself as a teacher showed up at the schools chiefs mothers house to voice objections to the plan, and that Mr. Luna was heckled during an appearance at a Boise coffee shop.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2011 edition of Education Week as Bargaining Rights Under Fire in Wis.