I don’t use the word hate lightly. There are a lot of things that I dislike but I try not to say that I hate them so that when something really bad needs to be condemned in the strongest terms possible, I can say that I hate it and it doesn’t sound trite. So let me say this: I hate Scott Walker and I absolutely loathe what that man has done to this state.
That out of the way, I need to ask my brothers and sisters on the hate left to calm down a minute about something, because I believe a lot of you are jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. That is, next fall the pay of Wisconsin’s teachers will not automatically be slashed 30%. Hate on Walker all you want, but I do not believe this is a reason to do so.
Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin has done an important bit of work drawing attention to a set of rules promulgated this past week by Walker’s Employment Relations Commission. This memo (pdf) first hit the news on Friday (example) with media saying, rightly, that the memo offers a definition of “base pay” for public employees that is very, very different from the definition now commonly used.
To take a step back: Act 10, the bill last spring that stripped Wisconsin’s public employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights, left one thing in tact that unions could bargain for, and that is salary increases. Public employers are permitted, under Act 10, to set starting wages wherever they want–a school district could hire a new teacher at minimum wage, for example, but that would be dumb. Keeping in mind that it is in their best interests to keep good teachers and attract new good teachers, most districts since Act 10’s passage have elected to keep salaries at or near their previous levels, and most even have kept the salary advancement schedules that existed before Act 10, even though they are not required to. Most municipalities have done this, in fact–though of course now there are greater deductions from salary for insurance costs and pensions. Act 10 allows unions and employers to bargain for increases to “base pay,” but it does limit the size any given year’s increase in pay to inflation as measured by the US Consumer Price Index (CPI) unless there is a referendum for a higher amount.
Another step back: For most of us, whether public- or private-sector employees, we consider our “base pay” to be what we earn before any bonuses or add-ons–overtime, merit pay, extra duty pay, and so on. I, as a teacher, have a “base pay” that does not reflect any coaching, advising, professional development, substitute teaching, or other extra pay that I may elect to earn. I pay a percentage of that base pay toward my health insurance premiums–but I do not pay a percentage of any of those extras. My pension is calculated on that base pay–but it does not count the extras. And so on. That base pay is determined by 1) how many years I have been teaching and 2) how much relevant education I have attained since I started teaching. Pretty much every district defines base pay this way, even those on handbooks since Act 10 took effect.
So here comes this new rule, which explains how to implement the bargaining provision in Act 10. And it redefines “base pay” to not include education and experience. The relevant part goes like this:
The hourly, or annual, base wage rate is the hourly or annual rate applicable to the position excluding supplemental compensation which includes but is not limited to, education credits or credentials in pay schedules, overtime, premium pay, lump sum merit pay, performance pay, and extra duty pay.
No one currently uses this definition for anything–not for determining pension contributions, nor for making up salary schedules, not for anything. This is the kind of move that it is hard to describe without profanity, so please follow me below the jump but don’t be surprised when I swear.
This is a shitty rule and Walker’s WERC is ratfucking teachers. Period. (Though it applies to all government employees, teachers are the ones who most rely on education and experience credits to boost their base pay.) If teachers are lucky enough to bargain a salary increase this year, teachers at the high end–those with experience and education–could see major differences in the size of those raises from what they might have been. Imagine, for example, a district where a first-year teacher with just a bachelor’s degree earns $35,000. If raises are distributed equally–I’ll get to that in a second–that means every teacher in that district gets a raise of just $1,120 (CPI for 2011 was 3.2%). A teacher earning, say, $50,000 would be cheated out of nearly $500 of salary increase. A teacher earning $60,000 would be cheated out of $800.
Here’s what makes the rule shittier: these raises do not have to be distributed evenly. The rule says the union would have to agree to this, but the total amount of the raises can be distributed in any way. Some employees’ raises could be higher than CPI, some lower, some even zero! Here’s that part: ” ‘Subject to collective bargaining’ includes both the dollar amount identified in ERC 90.03(5) and the distribution thereof to employees in the bargaining unit.” Those doing the bargaining can agree to distribute the funds for raises equitably or not as they see fit. (A good bargaining unit would figure out a raise formula that still considers the old definition of base pay in the distribution.)
But here’s where my colleagues on the left have it wrong. In two posts over the last three days at Uppity Wisconsin–posts which have ricocheted around the blogs, twitter, and Facebook–Lounsbury makes the claim that this rule means teachers’ pay will be cut up to 30%. Monday, for example, he wrote this:
As an example of how this will play out, below is the pay scale for the Monticello School District’s teachers [follow the link to see the illustration]. Previously, the maximum a teacher could earn in the district was $52,927– which is what someone who has a Masters degree, 24 hours of college credit and 12 years of experience is paid. Under the new rule, the maximum a teacher will be able to earn in future contracts is $38,167, which is the maximum for a teacher that has the minimum educational requirements, but many years of experience.
While it is true that the Act 10 era will prohibit the inclusion of all add-ons in future contracts– including years of experience and additional education– everyone had reasonably presumed that the starting point for salaries in their first post-act 10 contracts… would be the actual salaries they had been earning, and that the Walker administration wouldn’t retroactively go back and eliminate previously earned salary components.
The first part is simply false–there is nothing in this new rule, or for that matter, Act 10 that requires Monticello to reset all its teachers’ salaries to near the bare minimum, in this case $38,167. There is nothing in Act 10 that prevents Monticello from doing so–it is allowed now by low to set salaries wherever its heart desires–but nothing in this rule or Act 10 will force it to be so. And Lounsbury’s second paragraph there clearly intimates that teachers (and, presumably, other municipal employees) would have their pay “retroactively” slashed to eliminate education or years of service credit.
Let me be clear, I am not a lawyer, and Lounsbury’s wife is, and they claim to be in conversation with folks at the WERC. But what I teach is how to read critically, and there is nothing in this new rule or Act 10 that demands salary resets. (Again, nothing prevents it, but Lounsbury’s claim is that it will happen.) I would like someone to point to the language that they think does so.
Further, today Lounsbury posts the reactions of AFSCME’s Marty Biel to an interview with Sly, a Madison-area liberal talk-radio host. Sly asks this question: “Are you shocked that this story, this story about Scott Walker giving school districts the ability to cut teacher pay 30% by this administrative rule?” Biel answers that this rule does slash pay: “[T]eachers or other employees who are on either educational grids or seniority grids will have, basically, those stripped away resulting in incredible losses of pay.. 30-40-50% loss of pay– that’s incredible!”
Yes, it’s incredible, because it’s not true.
And the complaints rocketing all over the internets, from twitter to Daily Kos, are that this story is not being reported and the media are ignoring the story that teacher pay will be cut up to, to use Biel’s number, 50%. But the media, in their original stories, had this right–the definition of “base pay” was changed for bargaining increases in salary. That’s it.
Here’s why I’m pissed off about the way this has spread: It’s a bullshit complaint about a very real ratfucking. (Really, really sorry about the language, but, come on, this is important.) By drawing massive amounts of attention to a problem that will not be real, when the actual scope of the rule change is finally explained, it will not seem that bad. “What?” you can hear the people saying. “You mean teachers aren’t losing $15,000 a year but instead are getting a slightly smaller raise than they wanted? Well, what’s the big deal? Those greedy bastards still have it made!”
This is how we lose the recall. And I hate losing.