In an article about teacher retirements in the State Journal a couple of weeks ago, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews had some harsh comments about the Madison school district and school board. Referring to the Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program, or TERP, Matthews said, “The evidence of the ill will of the board of education and superintendent speaks for itself as to why we have grave concern over the benefit continuing. . . . They tore things from the MTI contract, which they and their predecessors had agreed for years were in the best interest of the district and its employees.”
In an article in Isthmus last week, Lynn Welch followed up with Matthews. Matthews comes out swinging against the school district in this article as well, asserting, “The bargaining didn’t have to [involve] so much animosity. . . . If they wanted to make revisions, all they had to do is talk with us and we could have worked through something that would be acceptable to both sides. But they didn’t bother to talk about it. You don’t buy good will this way.” While the contract includes very significant economic concessions on the part of the teachers, Matthews expressed unhappiness with the non-economic changes as well, labeling them “inhumane.”
In the Isthmus article, Matthews asserts that the changes in the collective bargaining agreement “show how Walker’s proposed legislation (still tied up in court) has already produced an imbalance of power forcing unions to make concessions they don’t want to achieve a contract deal.”
The collective bargaining process is useful because it provides an established framework for hammering out issues of mutual concern between the school district and its employees and for conflict resolution. However, if the collective bargaining agreement were to disappear, the school district wouldn’t immediately resort to a management equivalent of pillaging the countryside. Instead, the district would seek out alternative ways of achieving the ends currently served by the collective bargaining process, because the district, like nearly all employers, values its employees and understands the benefits of being perceived as a good place to work.
But when employers aren’t interested in running sweat-shops, organizations set up to prevent sweat-shop conditions aren’t all that necessary. It may be that John Matthews’ ramped-up rhetoric is best understood not as a protest against school district over-reaching in bargaining, since that did not happen, but as a cry against the possibility of his own impending irrelevance.