Scott Walker, as county executive, did a fine job of making Milwaukee County into a disaster zone all by himself. He let the parks fall into ruin. He started the transit system down a long spiral towards its doom. There was the way he disrespected and did a great disservice to the mentally ill, the poor and needy, and our other vulnerable citizens.
But to really screw things it requires teamwork apparently.
At the end of 2008, the contract between Milwaukee County and its largest union, AFSCME, expired. As is the norm, in the early fall, the union and the county sat down to try to work out a new contract.
However, Walker had no intent of bargaining in good faith. He continuously sabotaged the negotiating process by making threats of lay offs and then introducing a proposed budget that included large concession, concessions that were never mentioned at the negotiation table.
Despite Walker’s efforts, the union and the county did hammer out a two year deal in which the unions would take pay freezes and pay more for their health insurance. Walker threated to veto it and strong armed Board members to reject the Tentative Agreement. Three supervisors, Patricia Jursik, Johnny Thomas and Paul Cesarz were on the Personnel Committee at that time, and despite the Committee’s approval of the agreement, voted against them when it came up for vote in front of the entire Board.
This impasse continued as Walker and the County Board refused to even come to the negotiating table, but kept making demands of the workers and trying to play it out in the public media. Since the unions weren’t even able to consider Walker’s demands, much less accept or reject them, unless he brought them to the negotiating table, Walker then made political hay by giving the unions an extraordinary number of furlough days
Walker and the County Board continued to pass budgets that presumed these savings despite the fact these concessions were never negotiated. Milwaukee County First warned at the time that the budgets were illegal and that the tax payers would be on the hook for them.
The unions would in turn file complaints with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). The county asked WERC to drop the complaints saying that it belonged in arbitration. The unions agreed and dropped the complaints. However, Walker then backstabbed the unions by refusing to go to arbitration.
So the unions, with no other alternative, went back to WERC and refiled their complaint.
Last Friday, WERC handed out there ruling regarding the complaint about furloughs and about whether the county was participating in bad faith bargaining.
In a nutshell, the furloughs were done illegally and the county was found to be guilty of bad faith bargaining.
And just as when Walker illegally privatized the security officers at the courthouse and other buildings, this could prove to be rather expensive.
In the decision by WERC, they specified a few incidents which led to their rulings.
One was the fact that the County continuously refused to negotiate with the unions and refused to return to arbitration even though they had promised to. Secondly, they found that the number of furlough days went way over and beyond the 45 hours that the arbitrator ruled that the county could unilaterally enforce. Thirdly, the specified that Supervisors Jursik, Thomas and Cesarz willfully failed to meet their statutory obligations by voting against the Tentative Agreement.
What is most remarkable about the ruling though is the remedy that the Commission has ordered. The Order includes the following things the County shall do:
- Cease and desist from from refusing to bargain with the Union by having members of its Personnel Committee, which had specifically authorized the County’s bargaining team to enter into a tentative agreement, fail to support and vote in favor of the tentative agreement during the ratification process.
- Cease and desist from refusing to bargain with the Union by changing the status quo on mandatory subjects of bargaining during a contract hiatus, specifically, by unilaterally imposing furloughs upon bargaining unit members exceeding 45 hours during a temporary period of up to one year.
- Cease and desist from refusing to bargain with the Union by a totality of conduct during negotiations for a successor agreement.
- Upon request of the Union, promptly submit the tentative bargaining agreement for 2009-10 to the County executive for approval or rejection.
- Make bargaining unit members whole with interest for any lost compensations owing to furlough times they were compelled to take during 2010 in excess of 45 hours.
- Notify employees represented by the Union by posting in conspicuous places in all County facilities where those employees work, copies of the Notice attached hereto as Appendix A. The Notice shall be signed by a representative for the County and shall be posted immediately upon receipt of a copy of this Order and shall remain posted until such time as the parties have a successor collective bargaining agreement. Reasonable steps shall be taken by the County to ensure that said notices are not altered, defaced or covered by other material.
- Notify the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, in writing, within twenty (20) days following the date of the Order, as to what steps have been taken to comply with it.
The next thirteen pages of the ruling is the summary of facts regarding exactly how Scott Walker and members of the County Board (Jursik, Thomas and Cesarz) failed to do their statutory duties and have willfully failed the tax payers of Milwaukee County.
What all that legalese means is that Tentative Agreement is to be sent to the County Executive for signature or veto, that they have to resume good faith bargaining, and that the County has to pay back workers for the excessive furlough time plus interest.
Realizing that the County cannot afford that kind of payout, the unions have tried to reach out to the County to reopen negotiations instead.
Unfortunately, instead of trying to minimize the damage from the bad situation he had inherited from Walker, County Executive Chris Abele has broken his campaign promise of being inclusive and wanting to work with everyone, and has taken the opportunity to grandstand, along with Chairman Lee Holloway and Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo, the now head of the Personnel Committee by saying they are going to fight the ruling and have rebuffed any attempts by the union to reach a new settlement.
It needs to be pointed out that if the County Board and Scott Walker had accepted the Tentative Agreement, the County would have saved millions, possibly tens of millions, of dollars in savings due to the pay freeze and the higher level of the health care premiums paid by the workers.
This ruling has been made even more significant by the recent ruling by the Honorable Judge Sumi, striking down the so-called Budget Repair Bill, which was passed illegally.
In summary, we call on County Executive Abele and the members of the County Board to turn a new page and stop the political posturing that got us into this fiscal mess and resume good faith bargaining with the unions and strike the best agreement with the unions that they can make. It is far better to have actual and real savings in hand than the empty promise of larger savings which may or may not ever be realized.
Then they can work with the tax payers, the workers and others to find new ways to save real money and taking strides to make Milwaukee County a place for the people to live, work and play instead of just a plaything for the well-moneyed special interests.