Monday, February 14, 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and the Personnel Commission

When Gov. Scott Walker introduced his radical union-busting language last Friday, it was deliberately hidden behind a diversionary and, ultimately, uncontroversial increase in public employee contributions to their pension and health insurance costs.  Called, laughably, a “budget repair bill”, gullible news organizations like the Journal Sentinel and even the New York Times headlined the “cuts or layoffs” spin of the Republicans, while treating the decimation of collective bargaining rights as an annoying sidelight.

As Walker spent his whole day Monday taking advantage (as he did every day of the campaign) of the free advertising for his agenda offered by right-wing talk radio, all he talked about – and, of course, all he was asked about by the obedient script-reading wing-nuts – was the pension and health insurance changes and how state employees have to bear part of the burden and blah blah blah.  But hijacking the collective bargaining system on those issues, while offensive enough, is not anywhere near the worst of it, and Walker knows it.  That’s why he keeps talking about the money, because his destruction of the collective bargaining framework on other issues is indefensible.

But, in the rapidly-moving story about the speeding steamroller about to flatten public employees with a vote on the legislature scheduled for Thursday, it is possible the real issues are coming into sharper focus.  The Journal Sentinel news page finally gets off the Walker talking points in the Tuesday paper, with a front-page, above-the-fold headline that says “Rights, not benefits, at issue”. Both labor leaders and workers are quoted saying they could live with the cost increases.  But they want their bargaining rights on other issues retained.  "This is about busting unions and there is no nicer way to put it," union lawyer Willie Haus tells the paper.  "It's not about money. This is a hate crime."

After highlighting the real issue of Walker's draconian evisceration of collective bargaining on the front page, the Journal Sentinel again wimps-out on the editorial page today. "The state Legislature should take a thoughtful look at Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to neuter state public employee unions," says the issue-straddling clueless editorial board, as if the lawmakers just need to look both ways before crossing the union-busting street. "Walker's proposals overreach in some respects." Whoa -- slow down there, pal.  You wouldn't want to be accused of actually saying anything against your endorsed Boy Governor with the Mubarak complex. 

The editorial blathers on: "Other provisions that would require unions to take an annual vote to maintain their status or ban public employers from collecting union dues smack of union-busting." "Smack of?"  No, they are union-busting.  The legislature "should be wary of some of Walker's more radical ideas." What a pathetic abdication of the Journal Sentinel's obligation to take a stand in the midst of madness.  Well, I think what I'm going to do, as a thoughtful former subscriber, is be wary about ever overreaching and spending another dime dollar on that increasingly lousy excuse for a newspaper.
When asked about the end of union-bargained contract language relating to job protection, layoffs, hours, sick leave, working conditions, discrimination and other important aspects of public employment, Walker told the swooning radio hosts and a press conference with (mostly) real journalists on Monday something to the effect that Wisconsin has “the strongest civil service system in the nation” and that gives them “all the protection they need”.

But that system only exists for state employees.  Teachers and municipal employees can go pound sand if they have a conflict with their bosses. This is also true for the unclassified service in state employment, which includes TAs and RAs in the UW system; assistant district attorneys and, as I know all too well, assistant state public defenders.  Those employees will end up with absolutely no job or any other kind of protection.

My friends in the various district attorney offices across the state have always had a contract and now all their job protections would be gone.  The staff attorneys in the public defenders office have only had the right to bargain since 1998 and have only been working under a contract (the first of which I help bargain with them as a staff rep for WFT) since 1999.  Before they were represented, some staff attorneys (who shall remain nameless)were treated like shit by a temporarily oppressive administration trying to make a point about how they can treat people like shit.  After the contract, that kind of treatment was no longer possible. 

And, even for state employees in the classified service, the enforcement of their limited rights through their various agencies and, ultimately, the toothless Personnel Commission, is a joke.  As an organizer for the Wisconsin Professional Employees Council (WPEC), the AFT-affiliated group that organized a diverse group of professional state employees, I represented some of the members of the unit before they had a contract, under the statutory civil service rules, before the Personnel Commission.  The difference between that experience and grievance-handling in the workplace and before an arbitrator under a contract was like night and day. 

In addition, employees are on their own before the Personnel Commision to hire their own lawyers at great expense or represent themselves.  Removing union stewards and staff reps from the grievance process in the workplace and at the commission would create a messy, unsatisfactory process that pleases no one.

The Personnel Commission was and, I assume, is now a thinly-veiled prop, with only the interests of management at heart. Anyone (Walker) who says the enforcement of the civil service rules there is just as good as enforcement of similar rights under a labor contract is playing you for a fool.

A final thought:

Sec. 111.80 of the Wisconsin Statutes is the “declaration of policy” of the state as it relates to its own employees.  That section includes the following language:
“…there are 3 major interests involved: that of the public, that of the employee and that of the employer. These 3 interests are to a considerable extent interrelated. It is the policy of this state to protect and promote each of these interests with due regard to the situation and to the rights of the others.”
“Orderly and constructive employment relations for employees and the efficient administration of state government are promotive of all these interests. They are largely dependent upon the maintenance of fair, friendly and mutually satisfactory employee management relations in state employment, and the availability of suitable machinery for fair and peaceful adjustment of whatever controversies may arise.”
“…negotiations of terms and conditions of state employment should result from voluntary agreement between the state and its agents as employer, and its employees. For that purpose an employee may, if the employee desires, associate with others in organizing and in bargaining collectively through representatives of the employee's own choosing without intimidations or coercion from any source.”
“It is the policy of this state…to encourage the practices and procedures of collective bargaining in state employment…by establishing standards of fair conduct in state employment relations and by providing a convenient, expeditious and impartial tribunal in which these interests may have their respective rights determined.”
Wow.  That is a quite laudable statement of goals and ways to promote peaceful, productive relations between the state as an employer and its employees.  Who could possibly disagree?

From the “budget repair bill”, page 86:
111.80 of the statutes is repealed.

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