Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Bargaining Works Now–The State Prosecutors Get Theirs

Sunday, March 13th marked the end of state employee union contracts throughout state government.  On the same day it “dropped the bomb” on February 12th, the radical Walker administration notified all state employee unions that were working on extended contracts – which, since a couple of in-the-bag “Democrats” joined anti-union Republicans and refused to ratify long-delayed contracts in the lame-duck session in December, was every one of them – that it was invoking a clause in the contracts that allowed either side to terminate the extension on 30 days notice.  The clause had never been invoked before, but that was an easy one for the hard-working Walker legal team that has been looking for loopholes to screw working people and impose their authoritarian will since before he was elected.

Gone, at the stroke of midnight, were the entire contracts of every state employee union, some with historical language that went back 50 years.  Gone was language on discipline, layoffs, hours of work, transfers, contracting-out and that other traditional protections of an earnestly-bargained contract between consenting employer and employees.  Gone in a flash was an effective mechanism for resolving workplace disputes, up to and including a hearing before an impartial arbitrator.

If the union busting “budget repair” bill – rammed, as it was, through an illegal conference committee (the Senate never passed anything for the Assembly to “disagree” with) with illegally short notice; a Senate meeting illegally, without the constitutionally-required quorum for a bill with obvious fiscal implications or 24-hour notice; and rushed through an Assembly that was also meeting without adequate public notice and without a brain in its collectively Republican head – somehow survives court scrutiny and takes effect on March 25th, there will never be another state employee contract as long as the law survives.  State employee unions – without the ability to bargain more than a sliver of a base-pay increase; facing annual representation elections with oppressive, moving goalposts; collecting dues without deductions from its members’ paychecks; and sitting across the bargaining table from a drunk-with-power bunch of Walker greedheads who will give them nothing but laughter – may as well go into hiatus until Democrats come back into power in both houses and the governor’s mansion rather than dignify the charade.

There is one group of state employees, though, that seems to have made it through pretty well, at least in terms of achieving a long-held goal of, of all things, increased pay through a pay-progression structure.  At least financially, relative to every other group of state employees, the members of the Association of State Prosecutors are making out like the bandits they prosecute.

The ASP has a brief, but proud history.  Prosecutors in the district attorneys offices in Wisconsin’s 72 counties were employees of the various counties until 1990, when they became state employees.  Although they were in not in the classified service, effective lobbying gave them immediate bargaining rights with the state (something their counterparts – staff attorneys in the public defenders office – did not have until 1998).  The primary objective of the ASP has always been, as has that of all attorneys in state service, pay-progression – a way to move through the pay range based on years of service.  Neither they or any of the other state attorney groups could ever achieve it through collective bargaining – from Republican or Democratic administrations – although it has been at the top of their priorities since before the ASP came into existence.

Until now.  In a year when all other state employees’ pay raises will be limited to the rate of inflation, if that, the governor’s two-year budget proposal includes over $1 million in each of the two years for pay-progression for prosecutors.  Which leads to an interesting question:  How the hell did that happen?

The ASP did not endorse either Walker or Barrett in the governor’s race.  Speculation around the courthouse has been that the non-endorsement of Barrett was valuable enough to Walker to promise pay-progression in exchange.  The ASP has also been remarkably silent while everyone else in their union community’s ox is getting gored.  Others in the law enforcement community who have gotten special carve-outs in Walker’s union-busting scheme have stepped forward and lent valuable legitimacy to the pitched battle in Madison, with firefighter and cops even sleeping on the Capitol floor.  Prosecutors have always been sympathetic media figures and their voice would have put additional pressure on the law-and-order Republicans to come to their senses.

But, I guess you can’t blame the prosecutors for lying low and quietly taking what they have wanted for so long.  This is what happens when thugs like the people pulling Walker’s strings play groups of employees against each other.  The prosecutors know their new pay structure is as fragile as tomorrow’s news.  Because it is not locked into a contract, the new pay plan (as yet undefined – is the ASP going to be invited to bargain the details?) can get pulled at any time.  This puts the handcuffs and the gag on the ASP, in terms of any criticism of the radical Republicans or support for the broader labor movement they seek to destroy, indefinitely.

In the meantime, the prosecutors have lost all the protections of their expired contract.  As unclassified employees, they don’t even have the weak “protections” of the civil service system – no “just cause” for discipline, no layoff or transfer protection, no standards on hours of work – nothing.  They now serve at the whim and at the pleasure of 72 district attorneys –politicians  of various temperament and competence, and maybe with a few friends who could use a job.  Not every county has a fair, solid DA like John Chisholm.  It wasn’t that long ago that a clown like Ken Kratz was running an office in Calumet County.

Somewhere, sometime soon, some entirely-competent staff prosecutor will never get to enjoy progression through the pay range, because he or she will have lost his or her job for no reason at all.  And, in part, maybe, because they refused to join the fight of their brothers and sisters in the broader movement against the union-busting bill, the ASP won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.  But that’s what happens when you make backroom deals with sleazy politicians who are willing to play you against the broader union movement.  You got yours – congratulations.  What about everybody else?


Anonymous said...

Do you think that legislators will now be on a merit system for pay anc benefits?

Mike Plaisted said...

They are already on a merit system. The Republican Senators were just in Washington yesterday, picking up their bonuses.