Is MATC playing fair by rushing through a new employee contract?

The Chairman of the Board of Milwaukee Area Technical College admits she felt a sense of urgency to approve a new faculty contract, when protesters stormed the capitol over collective bargaining rights. Now, a powerful critic of the school is looking to shakeup the MATC board.

If the teachers at MATC are feeling the pain of their fellow public employees across the state, the sting may be more figurative than literal. The salaries of some MATC instructors match or exceed that of professors at UW-Madison. MATC Nursing Student said, "No way! That's not plausible." after hearing this fact.

According to the date released publicly by MATC, the top 50 instructors earn between $130,000-$160,000 a year, and Local 212 President Michael Rosen says that's the way it ought to be. "Milwaukee is lucky to have that level of talent here...People say, oh they're teaching welding, so you can hire any welder off the assembly line. That's not who we hire. We hire people who were top level welding managers. Directors of welding."

Citizens for Responsible Government Rep. Chris Kleismet says, "What about the rest of us paying the bill?". He believes MATC is wasting money gleaned from citizen property taxes.

Citizens for Responsible Government published a scathing analysis of MATC spending back to 2006. Kliesmet says, "If you took all the money that we spend on MATC, and put it in a bank account, and instead of sending kids to MATC to educate them, you could write them a check for the cost of full tuition at UWM".

Kliesmet and other fiscal conservatives were incensed when the MATC board voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with Local 212 a few days after protesters hit Madison.

MATC's deal with its faculty doesn't expire until June, but the new one insulates them from the effects of Governor <runtime:topic id="PEPLT006878"><runtime:topic id="PEPLT006878">Scott Walker</runtime:topic></runtime:topic>'s budget repair bill.

Rosen says, "The notion that we negotiated this contract to avoid what Governor Walker was proposing is just absurd on the face of it, and the facts substantiate what I'm saying."

Rosen tells FOX6 that union negotiations began in 2010, before Scott Walker was elected Governor. "We began this contract before that proposal was on the table, and we completed this contract before that proposal was on the table."

Technically, that's true. The union's executive board approved the contract just three days before Governor Walker introduced his budget repair bill.

A FOX6 investigation finds the union only called for the emergency vote after word of what was in the bill had already leaded out.

On Wednesday February 9th, the Associated Press reported that Walker intends to force public employee unions to pay more for their health and pension costs.

The next day the Associated Press wrote state workers fear that Walker will remove their collective bargaining rights.

It was that afternoon that Rosen called for an emergency meeting, and the union's executive board approved the contract on Friday February 11th. Rosen says, "Once we settle a contract, we don't just let it linger. We always want to get that process done."

The Governor's formal proposal emerged the following Monday, and two days later teachers across the state called in sick to protest in Madison.

The MATC board held its own special meeting at the unions request. MATC Board Member Rick Monroe says, "I urge board members to consider holding off their vote."

Nicolet School Superintendent Rick Monroe cast the only dissenting vote. The rest of the MATC board rubber stamped the deal.

FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn sat down with MATC Board Chair Melanie Holmes. He asked, "Did the board recognize that there was obviously some urgency, because of what's going on in Madison, to get something done quickly?"

She replied, "Of course the board recognized that."

Holmes admits they were influenced by the Governor's proposal, but says they got a good deal for taxpayers at a time when MATC is facing a $23M deficit. "The collective bargaining agreement we reached with Local 212 is unprecedented, and historic when it comes to the concessions that the union gave to the administration."

Rosen says, "What people should be focusing on here is that we saved the college 11 million dollars."

Kliesmet responded saying, "That's the best deal the MATC Board could get for taxpayers? That, my friend, is horse manure!"

The new contract does save MATC money, but critics point out that it still leaves instructors paying less for health care than the Governor is asking of other state employees. It doesn't require them to contribute anything to their pension. Rosen says, "We had shaken hands. We'd made a deal. If then, the college said well wait a minute maybe we can get a better deal. That would have been a betrayal of trust."

Holmes added by saying, "We really don't want to do anything that would harm that relationship."

Kliesmet has a name for that relationship. He calls it cartel bargaining, where everybody is one side.

Kliesmet admits it's hard for taxpayers to hold the board accountable, since its members are appointed rather than elected. "Any bargainer worth his salt could have done 10 times what this unelected board did for us."

To get on the MATC Board, you have to get the approval of another board. The MATC appointment committee is headed by the Milwaukee Public School Board President Michael Bonds, and includes representatives from other local school districts.

Critics say that's why the MATC board is stacked with appointees who are politically aligned with unions. One of MATC's most powerful critics is not calling for the board to be elected.

Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman is circulating a bill in Madison that would merely stack the MATC board with more appointees from the business community. "If you look at the type of people on the board, you see the problem immediately. These are not private business people who view the tech school as a way to efficiently provide employees for the state of
Wisconsin. they're just a bunch of liberal people who view the government as a way to get money."

On February 22nd, the union representing MATC support staff asked the board to rush through its contract.

Rosen said that he was aware that the Governor's bill might include cuts in health care and pension benefits before they called the emergency meeting. He says he was blindsided by the collective bargaining provisions when the bill was introduced. He still insists the the timing of his bill was merely coincidental.