A lawsuit was filed against the Madison Metropolitan School District Wednesday, claiming that contracts negotiated by Madison Teachers Inc. violate collective bargaining restrictions set by Act 10.
The Legislature passed the law as proposed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, which restricted unions’ rights for collective bargaining. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the law to be constitutional in August, after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas struck it down in 2013.
The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty on behalf of David Blaska, a conservative blogger and Madison resident.
C.J. Szafir, Education Policy director of WILL, said Blaska, as a resident, is objecting the illegal expenditure of taxpayer money that is appropriated to different parts of the contracts. Szafir said they are going on the theory that taxpayer money is being used in the contract for teacher union dues, teacher tenure, healthcare and other bargaining points.
“There’s no question of the constitutionality of it in the court system,” Szafir said. “The contract that is out there binding teachers, taxpayers and everyone in the district is illegal, and under Wisconsin law, people can’t be bound by illegal contracts.”
John Matthews, director of Madison Teachers Inc., said the teachers’ contracts were negotiated after Colas found the collective bargaining law to be unconstitutional.
Matthews called the lawsuit a “right wing stab” at Mary Burke, who is a member of the Madison school board and running against Walker in November’s elections.
“It’s a waste of money and it’s a frivolous lawsuit. The law is clear, the employment relations commission was under an injunction to let negotiations go forward,” Matthews said. “I think the lawsuit by the WILL is simply to try to cast a shadow on Mary Burke, and if that’s all they can find to complain about Mary Burke, they are really running afraid in this election.”
Matthews said the timing of the lawsuit was very suspect in that it tries to portray Burke in a negative light, and for that reason he thinks it is politically motivated.
Szafir, however, said it should be no surprise to anyone that the lawsuit was filed. Warning letters were sent to the Madison school board and superintendent Jennifer Cheatham in October 2013 and May of this year, Szafir said.
“This is something that we have been looking at for quite some time. The Madison school board and school district is free, if they choose, to not utilize the Act 10 tools to better the children and taxpayers of the district, but they’re certainly not free to ignore the law and that’s what we’re taking them to court for,” Szafir said.
Szafir said MMSD has 20 days to respond, and as of now the lawsuit is in front of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford.
Marcia Standiford, communications director for MMSD, said the district just received the lawsuit Thursday. Standiford said they still have to discuss the issue with the board of education before any decisions are made, but they do not doubt the legality of the contracts.
“We currently have employment contracts in place for 2014-15 and 2015-16, and we believe we were on solid ground when those were negotiated,” Standiford said.