By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Kristi Lacroix says she has been laughed at, screamed at and spit on – all because of her vocal support of Wisconsin’s controversial limits on collective bargaining and her vehement disdain of public employee unions.
The veteran English teacher at Lakeview Technology Academy, a public choice school in the Kenosha United School District, still, against her will, pays $108 every month, her Fair Share payer fee of union dues to the Kenosha Education Association.
This despite the reforms of Act 10, the Gov. Scott Walker-led law that gutted collective bargaining privileges for most unionized public workers in the state. The constitutionally disputed act allows teachers like Lacroix to opt out of union membership and their dues.
The district and the union, until the end of June, are operating under a 2011-13 contract ratified before the implementation of the law. Its requirements that teachers contribute to their taxpayer-funded pensions and pay more for their health insurance aren’t in force in Kenosha until July 1.
Lacroix says KEA officials have told her that 98.8 percent of her dues go to the cost of collective bargaining and administrative expenses, as is intended under Fair Share laws. She believes that’s a lie.
“Collective bargaining happens once every two years for about five days,” she said Thursday afternoon in a conversation with Wisconsin Reporter on her cell phone and, Lacroix said, off school grounds. “My dues paid for the election of Barack Obama and all the nonsense that happened in Madison.
“The union has one goal in mind: to maintain membership so the money flows in.”
Lacroix has taken her support of the new restrictions on collective bargaining to court, joining at least two other Wisconsin educators filing friend of the court briefs in Dane County Circuit Court in support of the law. In September, Dane County Judge Juan Colas declared key provisions of Act 10 null and void, arguing the law violates the state and U.S. constitutions. The lawsuit was brought by the Madison teachers union.
The state has appealed.
In their brief, the teachers argue the Wisconsin Court of Appeals should overturn the lower court’s decision. The teachers’ arguments in part stand on the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a three-judge panel that upheld all of Act 10.
The National Right to Work Foundation, a nonprofit legal defense organization fighting against compulsory union membership, is assisting the educators’ legal efforts. So is the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a nonprofit organization committed to the same cause.
“No worker should be forced to pay union dues just to get or keep a job,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a press release. Of course, the foundation, as its name would imply, is pushing for right-to-work laws in Wisconsin, as it did recently and successfully in Michigan.
The brief, prepared by the right-to-work organizations, relies on constitutional precedent in cases upholding Indiana right-to-work laws.
Joseph Kiriaki, executive director of the 2,200-member Kenosha Education Association, said the union clearly disagrees with Lacroix’s contentions, particularly the teacher’s assertion that public unions have taken their case to labor-friendly court districts, like Dane County.
“I understand when you’re in a weak position to make an argument or defense you probably say something so shallow,” he said.
Kiriaki said the split court rulings at the state and federal level have left school districts and educators confused and contract negotiations in question.
“I’d say it’s confusing and frustrating,” the union chief said.
The union believes there’s a litany of evidence to argue that Colas’ ruling extends beyond Dane County, including the state attorney general’s arguments concerning the statewide economic impacts of Act 10.
The school district, however, has moved ahead and approved its Act 10-based handbook, ready to roll out July 1.
“We’ve been following the advice of our legal counsel, who says (the ruling) simply (impacts) Dane County, that it does not affect anyone outside the county, so we are moving forward with the handbook,” said Tanya Ruder, spokeswoman for the Kenosha Unified School District.
Based on current state aid models, Kenosha’s school district, like many others around the state, stands to realize significant savings under Act 10.
As of July, the district’s 1,500 teachers will contribute 6.65 percent to their pensions. Today they pay nothing. And just like the other employees in the district, unionized teachers will have to pay a minimum of 12 percent toward their health insurance premiums. Currently, they pay a “minimal” annual fee of $373 for single coverage, $853 for a family.
Any savings from Act 10 are subject to the state budget and the status of state aid allocations. Last session, Walker’s budget cut deeply into state aid.
For now, Lacroix welcomes July 1,when she says she will be free of the union. But she said her fight is far from over.
“I’m not going to stop fighting,” she said. “Teachers think we’re saying you can’t have unions. No one said that. What we’re saying is you can’t force people to belong to unions and put a stranglehold on districts.”
Contact Matt Kittle at [email protected].