The leaders of the Madison Area Technical College Part-Time Teachers' Union are proposing to dissolve the union, creating in its place a private corporation that would contract with the college to provide instructors and administrative functions.

The proposal is not gaining traction with MATC administrators, but it's an example of how unions are trying creative ways to stay relevant in a changing landscape. 

A new state law limits collective bargaining for most public sector unions. Among other things, unions are now required to hold an annual recertification vote and win more than 51 percent of eligible voters — something few unions have chosen to do.

"The bar for certification is pretty unrealistic," said William Powell Jones, a UW-Madison history professor who studies labor unions. "I think it's really understandable that a bunch (of unions) are looking for other ways to maintain their power or maintain their membership."

Mike Kent, president of the MATC part-time teachers union, said a private, nonprofit corporation would be member-owned and operated. For tax purposes, the corporation would own a for-profit company that would operate as an employment agency, taking over many of the administrative functions currently run by MATC, including hiring part-time faculty, assigning courses, managing pay and benefits, providing professional development, certifying teachers and completing evaluations.

Kent said it would save the college $3 million a year.

Roger Price, senior vice president of administration, said he has not analyzed Kent's money-saving claim but said the college is not interested in turning over administrative responsibilities to the union.

"On the core it's not something that we want to do, or believe that we should be doing," Price said.

The part-time teachers' union has had a thorny relationship with MATC administration in recent years, alleging there's too wide a pay gap between part-time and full-time faculty. Last year, there were about 1,285 part-time faculty compared to 464 full-time faculty.

Kent said the union is pitching the idea to state lawmakers. He is also trying to get an audience before the college's board of directors — so far with no luck.

"It is a vendor attempting to get in front of the board to pitch their product," Price said. "We don't generally promote that nor do we usually expect our vendors to come in and have an individual session with the board." 

MATC, which also is known as Madison College, uses a competitive bidding process to enter into private contracts.

Jones said the union's proposal is reminiscent of an old model employed by the building trades, which take over responsibility for training and apprenticeship and operate hiring halls.

"The union would definitely have to demonstrate it could maintain the quality," Jones said. "That would be the first issue." 

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