If I may be allowed to disagree

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.


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15 thoughts on “If I may be allowed to disagree

  1. That’s how I read it as well. The early analysis relied on the words of one administrator is one district, and it struck me as a “may” not “must” situation. And that sucks bad enough, but overstating it only hurts the cause.

  2. Thank you for some sanity on this. Over-reaction does not help, making the left look hysterical — when this latest Walkerism certainly merits a reaction, but of cold anger.

    As a public employee whose sector also always has structured raises this way — in the olden days when we got raises, six years ago now, so K12 teachers at least may get raises at all — what you describe is exactly how it worked. Raises were based on the base pay, not on any extra work (summer teaching, for example).

    But to require teachers to go back to school for recertification out of their own pay, and to encourage teachers to go for master’s degrees for decades now with the promise of salary increases, and then to so restructure raises now as Walker has done is appalling.

    The impact on our schools and students will add to the worries for a Wisconsin falling farther behind in the economy every day.

    Anger. Cold anger. Carry that cold anger into GOTV efforts and campaign events and into the polls in May and again in June.


  3. I too thank you for posting this, Folkbum. I dislike exaggeration and careless interpretation of language as well (which of course is one of the Walker administration’s biggest problems).

    We don’t need to make up anything — the facts of Walker’s duplicity and anti-worker, anti-women, and anti-environment government that concentrates power in his office are well-established and damning all on their own. We need to use those facts without exaggeration.

    I know that more than fifty percent of the people who will vote in the recall do not like all the legislation he so proudly (and repetitively) supports.

  4. I worry about the uncertainty this creates for anyone on a career path. Today’s school board may work hard to reward teachers for their continuing education but tomorrow’s board may cut salaries by 30% on top of last year’s cuts. So how do you plan ahead? How do you “invest” in yourself? How do you take on a mortgage?

  5. janeofdane, your first sentence is fine; that is a concern, for the future, but that’s another blog post-to-be.

    However, your second sentence suggests that you need to reread the blog post that is here. Please understand the definitions, the math — and the plea that continuing to overstate the problem, as you do, can lose us the recall. Really.

    (And can someone puleeze get Marty Beil to STFU?!)

    1. No, she’s right that districts can cut salaries by 30%. Or more. Most won’t because they’re not actually that stupid.

      1. Okay, and we CAN over-react. But most of us won’t, because we’re not actually that stupid, either. We’re focused on what we need to do, to project to voters still undecided about even turning out to the polls, in little more than a dozen days.

        Heck, Walker CAN issue another executive order that claims a fiscal emergency and cuts the pay of a lot of public employees again. But he won’t, not now — and he won’t get the chance to ever pull any of this stuff again, if we stop him. Now.

      2. p.s. And on that point, that this was by Walker’s order, let’s be proactive and use that to ramp up support for the recall.

        That is, this is not a legislative act. To overturn it won’t require working with a Republican legislature, at least in the Assembly (and let’s please focus on the state Senate recalls, too?).

        To overturn it only will require another order by another governor. Let’s elect one.

      3. Thank you for this analysis. I can’t help but wonder, though, if there isn’t a school board that is foolish enough. I bet there will be.

        Walker’s fans automatically presume that some principle of subsidarity applies, and that the smaller units of administration and government will be capable of restructuring all the checks-and-balances formerly provided by the unions. I think that’s a big leap. Statewide uniformity of rules arose because of local indiscretions and injustices. The new “tools” will be ripe for exploitation not necessarily for saving the taxpayers some money, but also for enforcing the minor fiefdoms of tyrannical old boys’ clubs and big-ego administrators.

        1. I’d bet money that some will try it. Some school boards are so right-wing loony that they won’t care about the consequences. New Berlin is a good bet – they’re the skirt below the knees; no microwaves, coffee makers or fridges in the teacher’s lounge people.

  6. I think you’re right, Jay. That’s certainly how I read the initial stories. Thanks for speaking up, even if it causes a few waves in the Cheddarsphere.

  7. A commenter on Daily Kos said that under Act 10 the newly defined “base pay” is to be used to calculate the annual cost of living increase allowed. In other words, the CPI inflation rate will be multiplied by base pay to calculate salary increase (or rather the maximum allowable salary increase). In other words, the cost of living increase will be based on only part of teachers’ salaries, so their salaries will be eroded by inflation over time. I haven’t verified this but it sounded like he had checked it out and knew what he was talking about.

    1. Yes. See the boxed excerpt above in Jay’s post:

      “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.”

      And yes, salary compression — the term for erosion by inflation over time — also is exactly what will happen, as already can be clearly demonstrated by looking at state employees’ pay levels without raises (not even cost-of-living aka inflationary raises, much less not merit raises, either) for five years now, and six years in the case of UW faculty. A national study of faculty salaries released just a few weeks ago showed that UW salaries are incredibly far behind comparates elsewhere, in the bottom 10 percent at some ranks at some campuses.

      Their pay already was ‘way behind before Walker but after years of Doyle’s and Thompson’s dismal governance, of course. However, with K12 teachers getting some increase, anyway, it will only take a little longer for them to fall far behind compared to national norms and other states, too. Some states will give decent raises, so the gap widens fast. I’d give it about a decade, and our K12 teachers could be in the bottom half of the country under this order.

      Will we be Wisconsippi? We’re on the way.

  8. School districts are facing more cuts in state funding, how will they make up the shortfall? It’s going to be with cuts in teaching positions or cuts in salary. Wear rose colored glasses if you want, but don’t underestimate the desire of Republicans to punish teachers, who they consider the enemy, and cripple the public school system so that they can make the argument to privatize it. WERC attorneys have confirmed that school districts could use the definition change to cut salaries by 30%. Do you really think Republican controlled school districts won’t do this?

    In my opinion, those who think Walker’s dictatorial change in the definition of “salary” wasn’t designed to be used in the most destructive way possible are engaging in intellectual thumb-sucking.

  9. Let me try to defend the blog post on Uppity Wisconsin, even though it is Jud’s post and not mine. We talked pretty seriously about this before I promoted the post, and I think that Jud’s post is corect on all the important points.

    My current understanding of the actual effect from WERC’s viewpoint is this — The new rule (as re-written at Walker’s request, not the original version written by WERC) is being interpreted to mean that ALL negotiations for contract salary (the little bit of collective bargaining left to the unions) will be based on the Base Pay for the district, not on the current pay of a teacher. Meaning — when it is time to negotiate with the Union, everyone’s negotiated salary will be based on the base pay. Not just increases, but their whole salary construct. So although it is certainly true that a district MAY choose to pay a teacher at their previous salary, and to keep the higher rates of pay when new teachers come under contract — the district has absolutely no requirement to pay anyone above the negotiated pay – all of which will be based on the base pay for the district. With all of the cuts in funding that districts are facing for next year, I am almost certain this will mean cuts in pay for teachers – this being another of Walker’s tools. I believe he is banking on the notion that districts would rather cut teacher pay than lay of massive numbers of teachers – and that will be basically the choice the districts face.

    So although it may be difficult to predict what may happen in different school districts, it means that there will from now on never be a negotiation to pay teachers with advanced degrees, etc. more pay than an entry-level teacher (except for the whim of the district on an individual teacher basis – the so-called shift to “merit pay”. I think that’s a big deal. And it’s a new way of looking at it, taking away for all practical purposes all of the reward for an advanced degree, and almost all of what was left of the union’s ability to negotiate anything at all.

    Even the WERC people seem pretty appalled — and one of the commissioners wrote a fairly blistering dissent to the rule.

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