State panel to hear complaint between union, Oak Creek-Franklin district

Jan. 22, 2014

Oak Creek — Claiming school officials failed to bargain in good faith, the teacher's union has filed a complaint against the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District.

The Oak Creek Education Association wants the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to reopen negotiations, force the district to admit to the alleged labor-law violations and require the district to pay union attorney fees, according to the complaint filed late in December.

The eight-page complaint, the latest flareup in contentious negotiations, states that the district declined to follow through on promises it made, made only limited offers to the union and withdrew an offer for $1,000 base pay increase.

The complaint states that the district "retaliated" against association members and "interfered with, restrained and coerced" members of OCEA. The complaint also accuses the district of using regressive bargaining, essentially reducing its offers when union counter proposals were made, rather than trying to meet the union in the middle.

Troy Hamblin, director of human resources for the district, said he hopes the WERC will clarify whether distribution of a base wage increase is the mandatory subject of bargaining. He also noted he disagrees that the district did anything wrong or was in violation of state statutes.

"While we would hate to spend more money on complaints and lawsuits filed by the union, we think it will answer a big question, and probably a question that has more ramification than at the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District level," he added.

The prohibitive-practices complaint goes to the WERC for mediation. If that fails, a hearing will be held to see if the district was in violation of labor law.

Ted Kraig, director of Southeast United Educators, a regional division of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said he feels confident OCEA will win the complaint.

"We believe that Oak Creek, that the administration, clearly crossed the line and there is quite a lot of evidence of bad faith and unwillingness to deal with their teachers," he added.

Point, counterpoint

The OCEA argued in the complaint that Hamblin went back on an agreement he made in April to increase base wages for teachers by $1,000. The group also states he said other supplemental increases would be given to teachers outside the contract, using a tiered system.

The complaint goes on to say Hamblin pulled back on the first proposal after presented with a counter-offer by OCEA, instead calling for the conversion of a $550 bonus given as supplemental pay in the 2012-13 school year into the base wage. Those proposals were, the complaint states, the only two given by Hamblin.

"That isn't very many and doesn't show any flexibility or willingness to talk, and the second proposal was significantly worse than the first," Kraig added.

Oak Creek Superintendent Sara Burmeister wrote in an email that the School Board approved a 3.26 percent increase in wages for teachers using a combination of base pay and supplemental pay. She noted state law prohibits the board from approving a base wage higher than the Consumer Price Index without going to referendum; the CPI increase was 3.16.

She added in an email sent to all staff members that the School Board has shown support for its teachers by exceeding CPI limitations each year since ACT 10's implementation, lowered health care costs to employees in 2012 through 2014 and provided tuition reimbursement for teachers.

Other complaints

The OCEA complaint states Hamblin declared the discussions at an impasse and requested mediation before Paul Sojkowski, the association's main negotiator, emailed him stating he believed the two shared a vision and wanted to reach a settlement.

Hamblin, the complaint added, refused to meet unless OCEA submitted a written counter-proposal and that the meeting depended on what the proposal was. At the mediation session, according to the complaint, he refused to move in any way from the district's $550 proposal, causing the mediator to declare an impasse.

While he acknowledged he didn't move on the proposal, Hamblin added that his hands were tied in that he was dealing with a budget already approved by the School Board.

The School Board voted to impose the district's last offer Dec. 9.

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