Big changes come to Wisconsin

As the new school year begins, teachers in Wisconsin are just now finding out what work life will be like without a contract.

With the start of school approaching on Sept. 1, about two-thirds of Wisconsin's school districts are rushing to finalize employee handbooks to replace now-extinct collective bargaining agreements that for decades outlined duties and salaries for workers.

The passage of the state's new "Act 10" legislation - in effect for all districts that didn't extend a contract with teachers before the passage of the law - gives administrators the ability to make sweeping changes to teachers' pay scales, hours and working conditions without having to negotiate them with unions.

Some sacred cows are disappearing, such as teacher tenure, layoffs based on seniority and the guarantee of 10 years' worth of post-retirement health insurance. Other big and complex changes on the horizon include new salary structures and pay-for-performance plans.

Many teachers, especially those still feeling bruised from divisive union fights and the requirement to pay more for their health insurance and retirement, are concerned about the changes being made unilaterally by management, said Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union.

Some of the major changes will include

  • Changing health insurance options and reducing post-retirement benefits
  • Ending tenure and layoff decisions based on seniority, now teachers can be on year-to-year contracts, and nonrenewal decisions can be based on performance.
  • Modifying work expectations. Teacher contracts traditionally specify a variety of work-related conditions, from the maximum number of contact hours with students, to the number of prep periods, to the length and number of work days.

The other intended consequence was to reduce the teachers association to a shell, as they announce a 40% reduction in staff

The law strips teachers and most other public employees of rights to collectively bargain over issues like work conditions or vacation time. The extent of their collective bargaining rights are now limited to wages, and workers cannot argue for a salary increase larger than the rate of inflation. It also no longer permits unions to automatically withdraw dues from paychecks.

Similar effects will be felt in Ohio if SB5 survives the November election. It's not hyperbole to suggest that the teaching profession is on the line. And without strong advocates for public education, that too will come under great and greater duress.

A litmus test tomorrow in Wisconsin

Tomorrow is a big day in the test of working people vs. extreme politicians. In Wisconsin an election will be held to allow voters a say on recalling 6 Republican State Senators who voted for an SB5 like bill. Unlike Ohio, Wisconsin doesn't have the ability repeal legislation, instead they provide the voters a chance to recall their legislators.

So worried are the GOP over this recall effort they even resorted to running "fake Democrats" in a primary election a few weeks ago. Needless to say voters saw through this scam and every fake candidate was handily beaten. But these extremist lawmakers have a right to be worried after building an all too familiar extremist record in short order

Further, with the Republican-contrived primaries over (they recruited fellow Republicans to run against Democrats in order to delay and sow considerable confusion about recall process), the public can now focus on clear-cut choices between Democratic candidates with demonstrated followings and Republican senators whose reputations have been tarnished.

The Republican baggage includes:

  • their extraordinary anti-union votes,
  • their support for an exceptionally punitive budget toward local public education and services, and
  • their collaboration with the most dictatorial procedures and anti-democratic legislation that the Wisconsin Legislature has witnessed in more than a century.

MotherJones provides us a good synopsis of the 6 elections being held tomorrow. 2 are looking good for the Democrats, 3 are toss ups and one is looking to be a GOP hold. The Democrats would need to win 3 of the 6 to retake control of the Wisconsin State Senate and end Gov. Walkers middle class damaging agenda.

This election will also give us one of our first indicators of the kind of energy and voter turnout we can expect in Ohio around Issue 2, in the fall as voters here look to repeal similar extreme legislation.

Is election tampering of SB5 coming to Ohio

Yesterday we read an article detailing some very troubling activity by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers funded astroturf organization

Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.

The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk "before Aug. 11."

Those Wisconsin recall elections are central to the fight against SB5 like measures implemented by Republican Governor Scott Walker. Meanwhile, back in Ohio the Cincinnatti inquirer has a report

Americans for Prosperity-Ohio kicks off a statewide series of Taxpayer Town Halls on August 16th in the Greater Cincinnati Area. AFP-Ohio is partnering with Tea Parties, 9-12 Groups, and other liberty organizations to host these town halls, which will focus on the financial crises many local governments across Ohio are facing, how those crises could affect citizens, jobs and our economy, what local governments can do to address their financial challenges, and how Senate Bill 5 can help.

If anyone attempts to tamper with Ohio elections they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Illinois' New Teacher Law: Model for Other States, or Outlier?

A good article on the collaboration that led to a near unanimous acceptance of sweeping education reforms in Illinois

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn today signed into law a sweeping measure that has the potential to significantly reshape the teaching profession in his state by linking educators' tenure, hiring, and job security to performance, rather than to seniority.

Educators and advocates have spent months debating the importance of Senate Bill 7. Does it go far enough? Will it drive improvements in teacher quality and classroom instruction?

This much is clear: The process used to approve the measure in Illinois, a state dominated by Democrats, stands in sharp contrast to the harder-edged approach taken in Republican-dominated states, such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho by leaders who have waged public battles with teachers' unions.

That contrast could prove a defining issue in coming state and national elections. Democrats—most notably two Illinois natives, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—have called for cooperation between unions and policymakers. Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have battled labor groups in supporting laws they argued were necessary to bring down costs for school districts and taxpayers.

Which approach will prove more successful? We may not know for some time. Several aspects of Illinois' new law, and a separate teacher-evaluation measure approved by the state last year, will prove tricky to implement.

In Wisconsin, a measure approved by Gov. Walker and GOP lawmakers, which restricts the collective bargaining rights of teachers and many other public workers, is now being challenged in court.

In Ohio, Gov. Kasich and fellow Republicans backed a law that curbed collective bargaining powers of teachers and changed how they are paid, drawing a hostile reaction from unions. Opponents of Ohio's measure are now pushing to overturn that law through a referendum. And let's not forget Idaho, where a package of laws that phase out tenure and restrict bargaining powers also face a ballot challenge.

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Wisconsin election bodes ill for anti worker forces

We briefly discussed the ramification of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election a few days ago. We indicated a few things to look for

It would have been a stunning upset for Kloppenburg to win, so that's the first test of how organized and angry pro-middle class voters are. But also keep an eye on the votes cast for each - that will give us a rough indication of the effects these labor busting moves are having on real voters, in real elections.

So how did that turn out ?

As of right now, Kloppenburg has declared victory after finishing a few hundred votes ahead in a huge upset.

Nearly 1.5 million people turned out to vote, representing 33.5 percent of voting-age adults -- 68 percent higher than the 20 percent turnout officials had expected. That ought to scare most anti-worker elected officials, but this map below is the real friegthener

Walker decimated

This map shows county after county that Scott Walker won in the recent 2010 election now going against him - and in a lot of cases significantly.

This is the result of real people casting real votes and the message is loud and clear. If you attack the middle class they will fight back and they will defeat you.

An election to watch tomorrow

There's an election tomorrow worth keeping an eye on. The Wisconsin Supreme Court election has turned into a proxy battle for the union busting "budget repair bill" Scott Walker rammed through.

The fate of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill may hang in the balance Tuesday, when the state's voters head to the polls. The April 5 election, which pits conservative supreme court justice David Prosser against liberal assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg, will determine whether judicial conservatives or liberal activists have a 4-3 majority on the highest court in the state.

In a typical year, Prosser would win another 10-year term in a walk. But 2011 is far from typical. The left and unions are angry and energized over the Budget Repair Bill that curtailed the collective bargaining power of public employee unions. And while a Prosser victory is possible, all of that energy means that Kloppenburg is favored to win tomorrow's very low turnout election--historically, only about 20 percent of the state's voters show up to the polls in springtime elections.

It's been an ugly campaign as you can see from this recent ad

Prosser was elected in 2001, unopposed with 549,860 votes. In a 2007 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the winner prevailed 487,422 votes to 342,371.

What to look for tomorrow? It would have been a stunning upset for Kloppenburg to win, so that's the first test of how organized and angry pro-middle class voters are. But also keep an eye on the votes cast for each - that will give us a rough indication of the effects these labor busting moves are having on real voters, in real elections.