Wisconsin schools buck union to cut health costs

Jul 8, 2011 by

The Hartland-Lakeside School District, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee in tiny Hartland, Wis., had a problem in its collective bargaining contract with the local teachers union.

The contract required the school district to purchase health insurance from a company called WEA Trust. The creation of Wisconsin’s largest teachers union — “WEA” stands for Wisconsin Education Association — WEA Trust made money when union officials used collective bargaining agreements to steer profitable business its way.

The problem for Hartland-Lakeside was that WEA Trust was charging significantly higher rates than the school district could find on the open market. School officials knew that because they got a better deal from United HealthCare for coverage of nonunion employees. On more than one occasion, Superintendent Glenn Schilling asked WEA Trust why the rates were so high. “I could never get a definitive answer on that,” says Schilling.

Changing to a different insurance company would save Hartland-Lakeside hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be spent on key educational priorities — especially important since the cash-strapped state government was cutting back on education funding. But teachers union officials wouldn’t allow it; the WEA Trust requirement was in the contract, and union leaders refused to let Hartland-Lakeside off the hook.

That’s where Wisconsin’s new budget law came in. The law, bitterly opposed by organized labor in the state and across the nation, limits the collective bargaining powers of some public employees. And it just happens that the Hartland-Lakeside teachers’

 

 

expired on June 30. So now, freed from the expensive WEA Trust deal, the school district has changed insurers.

“It’s going to save us about $690,000 in 2011-2012,” says Schilling. Insurance costs that had been about $2.5 million a year will now be around $1.8 million. What union leaders said would be a catastrophe will in fact be a boon to teachers and students.

But the effect of weakening collective bargaining goes beyond money. It also has the potential to reshape the adversarial culture that often afflicts public education. In Hartland-Lakeside, there’s been no war between union-busting bureaucrats on one side and impassioned teachers on the other; Schilling speaks with great collegiality toward the teachers and says with pride that they’ve been able to work together on big issues. But there has been a deep division between the school district and top union executives.

via Wisconsin schools buck union to cut health costs | Byron York | Politics | Washington Examiner.

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