PEOPLE-Local 645

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The Weasel Blinked

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on June 12, 2009

I had started hearing rumors about this yesterday, late in the day, but Scott Walker has backed down, at least temporarily, from his threats to lay off 310 union workers in an effort to intimidate the union into signing off on an agreement to give up all their rights.

Of course, the local daily newspaper did their usual spin on the story. Let me help correct them correct it.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has decided to wait until August to decide whether layoffs are needed to help erase a projected $14.9 million county budget deficit for 2009.

For now, he will go ahead with plans to force thousands of union and management workers into shortened workweeks starting June 28.

But he will delay the layoff decision until an arbitrator rules on a grievance filed by a county labor union challenging the work-hours reduction, Walker said Friday. That could come in early August.

The union wasn’t challenging the furloughs. Heck, at one time, the union even offered to take them, but Walker refused. The challenge was due to the fact that Walker wanted it to be indefinite, with no ending date. That was in direct defiance to an arbitration ruling from 2003. The union has asked for a clarification on the definition of temporary.

Walker had threatened to send out layoff notices now in an effort to get that union to agree not to challenge his 35-hour-week plan. But the specter of 310 layoffs drew vehement opposition from the County Board earlier this week, and the union showed no sign of backing down.

After conferring with advisers, Walker said he realized there was little value to fighting the layoff battle now, given that it appears he can direct the shortened workweeks for up to 30 days without legal problems.

As stated above, the union isn’t challenging the furloughs, and have stipulated to Walker’s right to go for four weeks. The paper also forgot to mention that the proposed layoffs would have put the County in an untenable position, and was sure to face multiple lawsuits.

Interestingly, this story originally read, “After conferring with legal and labor advisers…”. This raises the question of why that fact was edited out. It could be that the editors felt that would make it to obvious to the general reader that it meant that Walker’s actions wouldn’t have held up in a court of law. Or it could mean that they were finally able to convince him that a projected 1% deficit cannot be defined as a financial crisis. Or it could be that they were able to finally get Walker to understand that he is no a king, and does have to follow the rules like the rest of us.

Or maybe they pointed out to Walker that he was being foolish taking this stance after giving his cronies such big wages and touting his campaign bike ride.

The larger question is whether the five-hour unpaid furloughs can be extended for all of 2009, as Walker wants. They amount to a 12.5% pay cut for the second half of the year for thousands, excluding law enforcement, correctional officers and some patient-care workers.

Again, here is the sin of omission. Walker’s actual threat was for the furlough to be indefinite and go through 2009, 2010 and beyond. Walker was also demanding that we still accept lay offs and to give up our rights for legal recourse, including claiming unemployment compensation and the ability to come back as slots open up again.

District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed the grievance.

That’s very good news,” District Council 48 leader Rich Abelson said of Walker’s decision to wait. “It didn’t make sense to do layoffs.”

Well, at least they got that one accurately reported.


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