Bargaining and Contract Update

Currently, our 2007-2009 contract has not yet been ratified and we continue to work under an extension of our 2005-2007 contract. Some developments with the 2007-2009 contract have occurred, and our 2009-2011 negotiations are beginning.
To begin, it is important to know how we negotiate our contracts. We bargain with both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Office of State Employment Relations (OSER). After we negotiate a contract, the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JoCER, or “joker”) has to ratify it with a vote. The 2007-2009 contract was settled with OSER and the UW back in December of 2008 and ratified by our rank-and-file membership that month as well. After this, our position and message to JoCER and OSER had been “Ratify, ratify, ratify.” We wanted the contract implemented as soon as possible so that we would all see the pay raises we deserve and for the new workplace protections to go into effect. In addition to pay raises for the subsequent paychecks, we would be entitled to something akin to “backpay” for the hours we have worked during which the contract would apply (anything during the 2007-2009 contract cycle). 
However, OSER did not put together legislative language for a few months and by the time they sent it along to JoCER, the economic crisis manifested itself into a state fiscal crisis. What the TAA heard from some of the legislators on JoCER gave pause; they were uncertain that our duly-negotiated contract would even get passed because of the fiscal and political climate. It is really more of the latter; the money to pay for our 2007-2009 contract was budgeted and allocated two years ago. We are due raises and “backpay” and it will happen; right now it is a matter of political circumstances. 
If the contract did not get passed by JoCER, we would be back at square one, a place at which we did not want to be. All along, the pay raises and “backpay” would be retroactive, so we have not lost that, and we will not lose that; however, the other non-economic contract protections are not in place without an adopted agreement and are not retroactive. For the time being, we are playing a waiting game. It is expected that JoCER will take up the contract for a vote sometime this summer, when they can guarantee to us that it will pass. Throughout this process, the legislators on JoCER proved to be our allies, looking out for our best interests and getting a contract passed. We have every reason to believe that they will continue along this path and stand up for us as unionized grad workers. 
When the contract is ratified by the state legislature, we will receive our raises and “backpay,” in addition to new contractual protections as workers. But to ensure that all of us who are due “backpay” receive it, we strongly encourage you to keep your contact information with UW up to date. They will be administering the “backpay.” If you worked during the last two years when our 2007-2009 contract would have been in place and had an appointment lasting through April of this year, you are due this money, and our union will be fighting to ensure that you receive it. Having your information current with UW will guarantee that you receive what is your due as a union member. 
As a quick aside to this 2007-2009 contract business, we should mention that there have been rumors of the state government asking union workers to give back the raises negotiated in their contracts. As you have read above, we do not have a 2007-2009 contract in place. So we have not been asked to give back any raises. If we are asked to do so, this is a change in the contract, something that our rank-and-file membership must decide democratically. 
While our 2007-2009 contract situation develops, our next contract for the 2009-2011 period is proceeding, if slowly at that. Negotiations are not yet scheduled, as we and the other state employee unions are wary of the impact of the fiscal crisis on upcoming negotiations. 
Based upon the results of the membership survey and the formation of contract negotiation plans at our April General Membership Meeting, the Bargaining Team has worked throughout the summer to formulate our proposal for negotiations, tentatively scheduled to begin sometime this fall. As noted above, this is tentative because of the state budget issues, as well as because we are a relatively small unit of workers compared to many other state employee unions who tend to set the pace in negotiations on things like wages and health insurance premiums. 
However, our pay-rates are a combination of money allocated from the state as well as “market money” allocated by the UW to improve our take-home pay. We are hopeful that building a good working relationship with Chancellor Biddy Martin, as well as a shared concern between our union and the UW administration around improving grad worker pay, improving the competitiveness of the university, will lead to gains in wages, among other topics. Our contract negotiations will also include proposals for improvements in working conditions, in addition to the economic considerations. We look forward to productive negotiations into and through the fall, working toward agreement on a new contract.
As is the practice of our union, our bargaining platform and strategy is a product of the input from our rank-and-file members. So please feel free, even invited, to offer up your thoughts. As importantly, the success of our union in bargaining and otherwise is the product of membership involvement and activism. Good contracts are not won solely at the negotiating table. So if you would like to be involved in bargaining and contract negotiations, or with our organizing around bargaining and other topics, please be in touch. For matters relating to the contract, please speak with our Vice President of Bargaining, Kevin Gibbons. For other things TAA, please be in touch with our Co-Presidents, Katie Lindstrom and Peter Rickman.