The seasons are being reflected in Milwaukee County government.
Last month, most of us were celebrating Christmas. There were parties, family gatherings over sumptuous meals, and, of course, presents. Good times were had and there was a certain feel of warmth and joy that only comes with Christmas.
But then in January, people return to the daily grind of work and school, errands, the occasional need to shovel some snow and the other mundane events that occur in the winter. But also, people get smacked with the Christmas bills. Bills for the food and beverages need for a successful party or to make that family dinner. And, of course, the bills for all the gifts that we bought for our friends and family and loved ones.
It’s like that in Milwaukee County as well, much in a much grander scale.
In the fall of 2009, as our elected leaders were hashing out the 2010 budget, Scott Walker included a plan to privatize the security guards at the Courthouse and other buildings. The Board rejected that idea and cut it out of their budget. Walker used his Frankenstein veto pen to reinstate the privatization. Again, the Board overrode his veto.
But after 2010 started, Walker declared a fiscal emergency and went ahead and privatized the guards, giving a lucrative contract to Wackenhut, over the protests of the County Board.
To make matters even worse, Walker bungled the whole thing.
First, he didn’t county on the professionalism of the county guards, who stayed on duty to the bitter end. So Walker had county security guards as well as the Wackenhut guards on duty at the same posts. To top it off, he also had Sheriff Deputies on duty, some on overtime, at the same posts.
Secondly, the jobs he took from Milwaukee County citizens ended up going to people from Chicago and Florida. The it turned out that one of the Wackenhut supervisors had a criminal history, including inappropriate sexual conduct, all while he was the police chief for Manawa.
Despite Walker’s claims that it would save tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, the reality was that it barely made it to $70,000.
And now, even that small savings has been obliterated, because Walker, as he is prone to do, overstepped his authority and the whole thing was done illegally.
The unions took the matter to arbitration, and the ruling of the arbitration came out late today. It was in the favor of the unions:
The county did not have a true budget crisis at the time and county officials failed to give the union representing the security guards an opportunity to make some alternative cost-saving proposals before laying them off, according to the decision from arbitrator Amedeo Greco.
Greco’s ruling also said the $125,000 annual savings from privatizing the courthouse security estimated by county officials was overstated by nearly $53,000.
The ruling calls for immediately hiring back the laid-off county workers with back pay, with any unemployment compensation or wages from a new job subtracted. It also called for a guarantee of at least 180 days of work – the amount of time that Greco said should have been given to the security guards’ union to react to Walker’s privatization plan.
No estimate was immediately available of the cost of the back pay or the number of former county security guards laid off last year who might want their old jobs back. The private firm G4S Wackenhut was hired by Walker to replace the union workers. The Wackenhut guards are being paid up to $10.50 an hour, about $5 an hour less than the union guards made.
It should be noted that at least a handful of county security guards were able to land jobs with Wackenhut. This ruling means that for the past ten months, the county will have been effectively paying over $25 an hour, between this ruling and the Wackenhut contract, just so that Walker could make a political statement.
On top of that, unless the county can find a way out of the Wackenhut contract, for the next six months, the tax payers will have to foot the bills for two groups of security guards.
That’s not exactly what anyone would call fiscal responsibility.
Ideally, since Scott Walker was the sole person responsible for this bad decision, he should be the one to pay for it. But Walker was never interested in fiscal responsibility, only in what he thought would make him more politically popular. Now that he has gotten what he wanted, don’t look to him to make give a hoot about Milwaukee County tax payers, much less an apology or offer of restitution.
Our advice to the Milwaukee County tax payer is to hold onto your wallets. There is little doubt that many more of Walker’s bills will be coming due over the next several years, and we will be the ones that have to pay them.