Aug 062010
 

With the district in a financial crisis and hundreds of its members facing layoffs, the Milwaukee teachers union is taking a peculiar stand: fighting to get their taxpayer-funded Viagra back.

The union has asked a judge to order the school board to again include Pfizer Inc.’s erectile dysfunction drug and similar pills in its health insurance plans.

The filing is the latest in a two-year legal campaign in which the union has argued, so far unsuccessfully, that the board’s policy of excluding erectile dysfunction drugs discriminates against male employees. The union says Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and others are necessary treatment for “an exclusively gender-related condition.”

But lawyers for the school board say the drugs were excluded in 2005 to save money, and there is no discrimination because they are used primarily for recreational sex and not out of medical necessity.

The filing last month comes as the union, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, is also protesting hundreds of layoff notices issued to teachers for the coming school year. Citing a “financial crisis” caused by exploding benefit costs and revenue shortfalls, the district’s outgoing superintendent proposed laying off 682 employees in April.

The district gave layoff notices to 482 teachers in June, but recalled 89 of them last month. Additional teachers may be called back, but these are still the first layoffs of Milwaukee teachers in decades.

At least one lawmaker questioned why the union is fighting for Viagra while teachers are losing their jobs. A consultant for the school board has estimated that reinstating the drug benefit would cost $786,000 per year — the cost to keep perhaps a dozen first-year teachers employed.

State Rep. Jason Fields argues that the money could be better spent any number of ways — including saving jobs.

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