Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why We Fight

Even since the lines were clearly drawn over a week ago, Scott Walker and the other Republicans trying to destroy public employee unions in Wisconsin as part of a national campaign by their Koch-corporate overlords have been deliberately telling lies about what the collective bargaining of working conditions means and the supposed protections provided by Wisconsin’s civil service system.  Both concepts – bargaining over working conditions and the civil service “protections” – can be a bit nebulous and the lack of knowledge about either is used by those who would use their various right-wing propaganda outlets to mislead and misinform the general public about what both mean.

When Walker’s beady eyes stared into the Teleprompter Tuesday night in yet another effort to pull the wool over the eyes of a state and national audience that is just not buying it, he read the same script he has been on for a week.  Part of that script is designed to mislead his listeners that the bargaining that union leaders and Democrats insist on maintaining relate to benefits with a financial impact, such as including WEA Trust as the preferred health insurance provider for teacher locals.  The WEA Trust talking-point is a bald-faced lie – it is the local school boards that contract with WEA Trust to be included in their health insurance options, not the unions themselves. Besides that inconvenient truth, Walker completely ignores the fact that, for good or ill, the unions have already rolled over on all bargaining related to pension, health insurance, any wage increase over the cost of living and any other wage and benefit issue with a financial impact. 

Regardless of whether Walker and his various lackeys on talk-radio and the legislature want to admit it, the real issue comes down to the elimination of non-financial bargaining.  These issues are included in standard, previously uncontroversial language in public employee contracts.  As the most familiar example (to me), I will use the current contract of the union I helped to organize and service as a staff rep for the WFT (now AFT-Wisconsin) – that of the great Wisconsin Professional Employees Council (WPEC), a diverse group of professional state employees.  The following is just an example of some of the subjects would be removed from any future bargaining or enforcement under the bill.  It is also interesting to see how the language of a contract compares with supposed protections in the civil service statutes:

  • Layoffs are to be conducted by seniority, within a classification within an employing unit (a smaller functional division of the work of an agency).  LTEs, project employees and probationary employees have to go before any permanent employees get the ax.  Employees have the right to transfer or demote to avoid layoff.  Those laid off retain the right to be restored, with the most senior restored first if the jobs come back.
    • The statutes only require that “the order of layoff of such employees may be determined by seniority or performance or a combination thereof or by other factors.” In the administrative code, the layoff rules generally follow a seniority pattern, but allow agency administrators to protect 20 percent of less senior employees from the layoff group.  This is (or should be) known as the “suck up” exemption and is not possible under a union contract.
  • The Hours of Work language of the WPEC contract includes language relating to the earning and use of professional time and comp time, the scheduling of vacation, telecommuting and other issues that come up often as busy professionals in state service perform their various duties.
    • There is no language in the statutes or administrative rules that even recognize the existence of comp time or professional time to account for hours worked over 40 hours a week (those employees designated as “professional” are not required to get overtime by federal law).  This is an example how individual contracts for different groups of employees can help make adjustments that best suits their (and the employer’s) interests.
  • Grievances – defined as alleged violations of the union contract, everything from discipline to workplace safety.  If not resolved in the agency, the grievance is ultimately heard by an independent arbitrator who decides the matter. 
    • Under the civil service rules, some forms of discipline are not grievable (a written reprimand, a bad performance evaluation; or “the evaluation methodology used by an employer to determine
      a discretionary pay award, or the amount of the award”) and those that are end up in the Personnel Commission – hardly an independent arbiter. 

….and so on.  Regardless of the financial aspects (the parameters of which have always been dictated by the state before bargaining started anyway) life is different without a contract, as WPEC members know all too well.  The group now represented by WPEC worked without a contract for most of their careers, until they won the representation election in 1994.  They were a skeptical bunch during the organizing campaign, but ultimately built themselves into a strong representative for their members, making a positive difference in many lives in many ways.

Now, the radical Republicans are trying to pull the rug out from under them and the other public employee unions by destroying them with absurd bargaining restrictions, an onerous annual recertification requirement and the elimination of dues deductions from paychecks.  If the day arrives when the “budget repair bill” passes in anything like its current form, the Republicans will politely shake hands and pat each other’s backs in public over their grand march towards fiscal integrity.  But, once they get behind closed doors, the champagne will flow and the cigars will be lit in the back rooms and the country clubs to celebrate the end of public employee unions in Wisconsin.

This is Why We Fight.


mary said...

Thanks Mike! Please do an op-ed to the JS - this is very valuable info to people who want to understand what is truly at stake.

Anonymous said...

Please, spread the word. Things are getting ugly out there. This attempted push-through and the hate speech that surrounds us all is causing people to have a rats on a sinking ship mentality. There's so much more than money to lose. We need to be the ones with clear heads. When so much foward momentum is driving the Middle East, how can we stand idly by while the rug is pulled from beneath us? In America workers' rights are human rights.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't on point, but it's what makes me very sad about the present state of affairs...


Anonymous said...


THIS is why you fight.