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2013 May 27 - 12:00 am

POLITICS & POLICY: Adjunct Sues Wisconsin College Over Talks with Employee Union

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A part-time instructor sued the Milwaukee Area Technical College, saying its board illegally negotiated a new contract with an employee union.

The basis for the lawsuit is Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 law eliminating most public employees’ collective bargaining rights. It limits negotiations to wage increases that are no greater than the rate of inflation.

The lawsuit, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of part-time instructor Victoria Marone, claims the MATC board quickly negotiated a new contract while the law was being debated in 2011. It says that contract was far more favorable to employees than it would have been under Walker’s law.

The lawsuit also says a new contract the board approved in February to succeed the current one that expires in 2014 was illegally negotiated. The deal with the American Federation of Teachers Local 212 covers more than just base wages, said Rick Esenberg, a lawyer and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

“We sent a letter to MATC warning them of the risk they were taking by negotiating with the union,” Esenberg said in a statement. “They chose to ignore us, the law, and, most importantly, their taxpayers. We are asking for the court to declare the new labor agreement to be unlawful and invalid.”

Union president Michael Rosen said it was able to negotiate the deal after a Dane County Circuit judge declared the law unconstitutional in September. The state has appealed that decision, and the 4th District Court of Appeals asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court last week to take the case.

That case involves a lawsuit brought by unions representing Madison school teachers and city of Milwaukee workers. Several other lawsuits also have been filed over the union legislation.

Rosen said the new contract, which would run from Feb. 16, 2014, to Feb. 15, 2015, will save the college $14.3 million during that time because staff will pay part of their pension costs, pay a greater share of their health insurance premiums and pay more for co-pays and deductibles. The union also agreed to pay cuts for part-time faculty and for summer and online classes.

Those provisions were “a win for the taxpayer, they were a win for the college and they were a win for the employees,” Rosen said. Down the road, those changes could save the college $130 million, he added.

MATC spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl said the college hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit but knew it had been filed.

“We are confident in our position that it was permissible to negotiate with our represented employees due to the pending legal issues surrounding Act 10 and look forward to offering our defense” she said in a statement.

Marone has taught English as a second language at MATC since 1984. Her lawsuit asks for the contract to be overturned.

“Neither MATC nor Local 212 ever asked for my input,” she said in a statement. “I’m appalled that my union would flout the law and negotiate an illegal contract.”

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