Going to the Mat for WPS

Jason Shephard:

Suzanne Fatupaito, a nurse’s assistant in Madison schools, is fed up with Wisconsin Physicians Service, the preferred health insurance provider of Madison Teachers Inc.
“MTI uses scare tactics” to maintain teacher support for WPS, Fatupaito recently wrote to the school board. “If members knew that another insurance [plan] would offer similar services to WPS and was less expensive — it would be a no-brainer.”
WPS, with a monthly price tag of $1,720 for family coverage, is one of two health coverage options available to the district’s teachers. The other is Group Health Cooperative, costing $920 monthly for a family plan.
During the past year, the Madison school board has reached agreements with other employee groups to switch from WPS to HMO plans, with most of the savings going to boost pay.
In December, the board held a secret vote in closed session to give up its right to seek health insurance changes should negotiations on the 2007-09 teachers contract go into binding arbitration. (The board can seek voluntary insurance changes during negotations.)
“What we’ve done is taken away a huge bargaining chip,” says board member Lucy Mathiak. “Every other major industry and public sector has had to deal with health-insurance changes, and we’ve got a very real $10 million deficit.”
MTI Executive Director John Matthews says other employee unions “made a big mistake” in switching to HMO plans. Matthews has long maintained that WPS provides superior coverage, despite its higher costs and disproportionate number of complaints. And he defends the paycheck he collects from WPS as a member of its board, saying he’s better able to lobby for his teachers.

Much more on this issue, including links, audio and a transcript, here.

14 thoughts on “Going to the Mat for WPS”

  1. Eventually this will come to a head. Once the Board has to cut into classrooms and staff, and teachers are faced with either being unemployed or taking something other than WPS, we’ll see some movement- or we’ll see the dreaded “labor strife”. Either way, the road is rocky and will be rocky for a long time. Let’s face it, the teachers who want WPS are the more senior in terms of service, and they’re the one’s who won’t be surplussed when cuts are made…a self-perpetuating problem in and of itself!

  2. Am I the only one who thinks there is anything wrong with Matthews taking a paycheck from WPS while representing the teachers on health care coverage? How is this possible? And he’s thumbing his nose at everyone defending it. Do the teachers support this?

  3. I’m disappointed in Vang, and Winston, but not surprised by Carstenson and Silvera.
    It might too late given the vote took place in December, but procedurally, Vang or Winston should ask for Reconsideration.
    I don’t know if such a vote can be public, since the original vote was in closed session. On the other hand, in the case of sessions to consider negotiation strategies, unlike for expulsions, for example, a closed session is not mandatory.
    I was going to say that Winston, to keep his seat, needs to push the vote — but that is not true — his competition in the board race does not seem prepared. He’s likely to win regardless of his vote on the issue. Perhaps his original vote on the Impasse agreement was the quid pro quo to get MTI help — he took his marching orders as MTI’s faithful puppy, tail between his legs, peeing on the carpet. Sadly, though, he won’t need MTI’s help in this election.
    Then, it’s up to Vang. He gets to do the right thing for us and our kids as his last significant act. Else his legacy as a board member will be defined by his original vote on the Impasse agreement. Like Winston’s, his case is easy — just a matter of principle.

  4. As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’ve fairly recently learned of this site. I read it daily and share some of the postings with others. My dissatisfaction and dislike for our School District continually grows deeper. Larry Winkler wrote about doing the right thing for our kids and having principles. Unfortunately, it seems that some of the people on our Board have little or no principles. It rarely seems to be what is best for our kids! I knew that there were many reasons to be upset with our School District, I didn’t realize HOW MANY until I started reading this site! I think our School Board could benefit from one of our District’s anti-bullying programs. Unfortunately the majority of them would find themselves “Below the Line!”

  5. @Ann R:
    No, the teachers generally do not support this, although the anointed few who are in high office at MTI do. I find it embarrassing. But:
    1. Most teachers are too busy to bother with or participate in union issues like this, and
    2. Matthews has so ensconced himself in office that any participation would be quashed anyhow.
    I don’t see any resolution other than Matthews’ retirement or a Board that can take the difficult but correct position of being pro-teacher while also being anti-WPS.

  6. Given that MTI doesn’t truly represent the views of many teachers in the healthcare area, is there any way to get those teachers’ input, or do they just get castigated by and swept under the typical union iron curtain? I can’t believe that a big union thinks a price tag of $1,720/month for a family policy is a good deal. I mean, state employees (larger pool for sure) pay as low as $600/year for family coverage via Physicians Plus/UW. For the WPS price, these folks had better be getting a lube job and an oil change every month along with preventative full body MRI’s and psychotherapy for individual moles!

  7. The folks who voted “against” taking health off the table are thinking about teachers – mostly more salary and fewer job losses. Let’s say the savings was $10 million dollars and that $8 million went to salaries and $1.5 million went to class size – that’s 30 teachers who would not be laid off. That’s 30 teachers who would be in the classroom, teaching in smaller class sizes.
    I don’t understand a union leader who does not get the benefits of this for his members if coverage is comparable and less expensive – increased salaries and help for class sizes. I don’t understand a union leader who is not concerned about protecting members’ jobs/working conditions as well as salary and benefits.

  8. Can’t add. $2 million – 40 teachers. Or $9 million salary, $1 million to operating budget – 20 teachers. Higher salary means higher retirement benefits, because retirement based upon what one’s salary is.

  9. Ya know…I have to break my silence on this one. Not on the topic of the actual article Shepard wrote but on the lack of professionally reporting quotes especially from those candidates running for MMSD board.
    My most recent letter to the editor in January, to The Capital Times and the Isthmus was to encourage fair research and reporting without personal bias or influence. That’s not happening Madison! Recent endorsements on candidate websites prove this to be true…bias in our local media.
    I just hope all of you reading attend at least 2-3 forums. It’s the only way each of you will learn more, for yourself, and about the candidate that fits your ideals.

  10. I’d like to underline a point already made. By clinging to higher cost insurance, MTI ensures there are fewer dollars available for salary increases. The only winner in this situation is the present insurer. Teachers will of course continue to have their present insurance coverage, but their retirement pay will be lower.
    The four-three split vote is typical of a divided board: the board minority thinks the issue through and takes a stand, and the majority votes in reaction as a protective block, rather than individually considering the issue on its merits.
    Obviously, change is difficult to implement. The district may still have a board controlled by MTI following this year’s election.

  11. I guess, I would like to know and understand how it all works and, personally, the article should have answered that question. Alot of questions are left unanswered:
    What if the vote was about providing our staff with choice?
    What if staff can choose their insurance?
    What if staff choosing WPS have less take home pay?
    What if staff choosing an HMO option have more take home pay?
    What if the vote was about making sure staff salaries were not on the chopping block?
    What if the vote was about maintaining our highly trained and experienced staff?
    What if the vote was about maintaining a competitive salary & benefits package compared to surrounding district options?
    What if it was about making sure children interact with great teachers?
    What if?
    I expect our media to present both sides of the story along with facts on the process and how the system works. Instead, we are getting bombarded with opinions and not able to come to conclusion about our own ideals. What if?

  12. Mari raises a good point. Apparently, MTI members prefer the benefits over the salaries. If they didn’t, they’d have voted otherwise and instructed Mr. Matthews to negotiate differently. Although many of us agree that this isn’t, on the surface, in the best interest of the MMSD, it IS democracy in action (within MTI).
    How often do school districts go to binding arbitration and win in Wisconsin? That’s what would eventually happen, because neither side would give in.

  13. I think the point of Jason’s article was to focus on school board governance, and how that works with MTI during contract negotiations. He used the voluntary impasse resolution as an example.
    I also think it’s important for the community to see how candidates for school board would approach contract negotiations – what’s their philosophy, what might they do?
    What Dave and Mari say are good points, but I think the point of the Isthmus article was on what the School Board did prior to the start of negotiations on major issues. I think that information is important for the community to have. I also thought is was good to have quotes from the candidates. It’s not surprising to me that candidates endorsed by MTI follow the union’s lead. Afterall, MTI’s not about to endorse anyone who does not agree with their goals – that wouldn’t be in their best interests to do that.

  14. @david cohen:
    It may be ‘apparent’ that MTI members prefer benefits, but there’s really no evidence of this. If MTI is “democracy in action” then I might prefer dictatorship. At least in the latter people know there’s someone at the top who doesn’t care what the little guy thinks. Instead of it just flying under the radar of the comfortable status quo.

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