So, Friday came and went, and Scott Walker’s layoff threat turned out to be as empty as his well of public support for his radical-right agenda. He sent some 30-day notices to the various unions, a meaningless act without names attached. No doubt there was a bit of nostalgia in the notice – it will, no doubt, be the last notice of any kind sent to a union by Walker’s union-busting regime.
Little noticed in all the uproar about Walker’s attempt to eliminate public employee labor unions in the future is the status of state employee unions in the present. On the same day Walker dropped the budget-repair “bomb” he thought he was bragging to David Koch about, his administration sent out notices to every state employee union, all of them operating under expired contracts (expired only because a couple of Walker tools in the Democratic Senate last year – sell-out Jeff Plale and turncoat Russ Decker voted against them) that the state was giving 30-day notice that they were terminating all state employee union contracts.
That means the Walker administration is liberated from any obligations under the expired contracts, starting March 13th. There was no way they were going to issue any actual notices before then, since any notices sent now would be covered by the contract and any grievances still in process when the contracts expired would still be governed by the contract. So, the governor threatening to send out actual layoff notices Friday if the Brave WI 14 did not return was a lie. All he sent were meaningless letters to unions whose contracts he terminated and whose existence he is trying to eliminate. I bet they had a good laugh in the governor’s office sending those out. Maybe they flew in a real Koch brother so he could lick the stamps.
That means that, if Walker has the guts to actually pull the trigger on any layoffs, they will look much different than they would under the state employee contracts. For the classified service, that means the layoffs slip into being governed by the vaunted civil service “protections” of Walker’s propaganda campaign. While some of the language tracks the contracts, the notice requirements are shorter (14 instead of 30 days) and the Walker stooges at the head of the various agencies get to exempt 20 percent of the group just for being their friend:
The appointing authority may exempt from the layoff group up to 2 employees or 20%, whichever is greater, of the number of employees in the layoff group to retain employees having special or superior skills or for other purposes as determined by the appointing authority.
So, Cathy Stepp, the anti-DNR DNR secretary, can exempt her friends and acquaintances, if she has any, at the agency.
In addition, if any agency just ignores the layoff language of the administrative code and does it any way they want, who is there to stop them? Under a contract, it would be an independent arbitrator. Without a contract, it is the management tribunal known as the Personnel Commission, who will get any question of interpretation wrong, in management’s favor, and take forever to get there.
Oh, and then there are those in the unclassified service, like my friends in the Public Defenders office. After their contract expires on March 13th, staff attorneys can be laid off in any way management chooses. This would have been more of a threat to more senior attorneys about 20 years ago, when the (past) management of the agency was waging war on the Milwaukee and Racine offices. In fact, the first layoff language offered by management when we began bargaining the staff union’s first contract in the late ‘90s was “layoffs shall be conducted in the manner determined by management”. That didn’t last long, and the SPD attorneys have been operating under seniority layoff language under the contract ever since. Until March 13th, that is, when they will have to rely, again, on the kindness of what is currently a benevolent management. Currently.
But Walker is not going to conduct any layoffs, now or 15 days from now. Not while his poll numbers are in the tank and people are going to blame him much more than the Brave WI 14. Besides, there is no emergency – if the failure to pass the financial parts of his “repair” bill actually cost the state some money, it can all be pushed off to the next two-year budget – it always has been.
But, be sure of it – if the Walker regime succeeds in ramming through his “repair” and two-year budget (against public opinion, by the way -- remember how right-wingers used to throw around polling data during the health care debate, saying the Democrats were going “against the will of the people”?) and continues with a lapdog legislature for the next two years, layoffs will certainly come – but not because the state is “broke”. The 500 lb. elephant is the room is the privatization of the work of state employees to sweetheart companies with political connections.
The WPEC contract has this language preventing contracting-out that results in layoffs:
The Employer shall not contract out work normally performed by bargaining unit employees in an employing unit if it would cause the separation from state service of the bargaining unit employees within the employing unit who are in the classifications which perform the work.
This is especially important to WPEC because they represent over 1,500 IT professionals. The Thompson administration was always hot to farm-out those functions of running the state’s massive computer network to his wealthy contributors in the private sector. You can bet Walker is the same way – about computers and everything else that isn’t nailed down – regardless of how his scheme to outsource courthouse security in Milwaukee to his friends at Wackenhut was laughably and predictably reversed by an arbitrator under that group’s union contract.
The two-year budget bill is remarkably silent on any overt outsourcing plans, but you know they are coming. And, they they do, that will be when massive state employee layoff notices hit the mail. With no union contract to protect them against the contracting or the manner of the layoffs, the radical Walker administration will run like a steamroller over the state employees he claims so insincerely to respect. Then, Wisconsin will be “open for business”, alright. And state employee jobs will be for sale, and not to the lowest bidder.