June 7, 2023

Teamwork and Bargaining Reform Fuel Union’s Gender Discrimination Victory in Verona

Teamwork and Bargaining Reform Fuel Union’s Gender Discrimination Victory in Verona Featured Image

This week’s settlement of a federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) gender-based pay discrimination complaint in favor of women teachers in the Verona Area School District did not happen on its own. It happened after members and leaders in the Verona Area Education Association (VAEA) talked with each other and worked with WEAC and WEAC Region 6 leaders and staff to research and uncover pay gaps between male and female educators. They found pay differences of nearly $20,000 in some cases between male and female teachers holding the same experience and qualifications.

“We discovered that special education women teachers were getting paid far less than special education male teachers in our district,” said former VAEA president and special education teacher Sarah Greenlaw. “We said, ‘This isn’t okay. What can we do?’ That conversation among colleagues is what got the ball rolling.”

The EEOC ruled that the Verona Area School District violated the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963. WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olson says the EEOC victory was the end of a three-year process that could have been avoided if the school district had a coherent and transparent salary schedule. And all the evidence says discriminatory pay practices are not a problem only in Verona.

“It is likely an issue almost everywhere because of the way school districts have chosen to pay teachers and employees in the 12 years since public employees have lost most of their collective bargaining rights,” Wirtz-Olson said.

Through the settlement, 10 Verona teachers will receive $450,000 in back pay, interest and retirement earnings. Separately, the district has also agreed to correct placements of other teachers on the salary schedule, impacting 367 teachers.

Wirtz-Olsen says unfair pay practices are common in the absence of salary schedules that lay out a clear pay pathway for educators. It’s one of the top reasons so many educators are choosing to leave the profession mid-career – and why so few young people are entering the profession. Meanwhile, WEAC is fighting for fair pay for educators who choose to enter and stay in the profession.

“Our union is advancing Fair Pay Now initiatives across Wisconsin,” said Wirtz-Olsen. “Districts are on notice that if they engage in discrimination, our union will not stop until justice is realized. Every educator deserves a fair, predictable and transparent salary schedule. When union members can negotiate pay and benefits with the employer, these inequities are exposed and rectified without need of EEOC intervention.”

WEAC is fighting for collective bargaining reform in state law, and Wirtz-Olson says all local unions can fight for reform in their individual districts. In Verona, the VAEA made repeated attempts to informally resolve pay discrepancies with Verona’s former administrative team. That administration refused to address the problems or work with teachers on the matter, leaving the union no choice but to file the EEOC complaint. Since then, Verona’s current administration has collaborated with teachers to reach this week’s settlement and to work toward assuring all educators in Verona are compensated fairly.

More information about the benefits of collective bargaining and how to get them back is available on WEAC.org.