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Walker: Desperately Seeking Scapegoats

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on September 18, 2009

In less than a week, Scott Walker will officially present his proposed 2010 county budget. As in every previous year, Walker will royally screw it up in an effort to preserve the pretense that he is sticking to his campaign promise of not raising taxes, even though he really is raising them.

The County Board, who actually listens to the taxpayers on how the money should be spent, will try to correct his budget as much as possible, restoring services that Walker considers expendable, like aiding the poor, the elderly and the disabled. Unfortunately, this usually also involves a nominal tax increase.

Then Walker goes out and plays the martyr, pretending to have “fought the good fight” and blaming the County Board for doing what he knew he should have done all along. Besides scapegoating the Board, he will also blame Governor Jim Doyle, the unions and probably even President Barack Obama. In Walker’s world, it is always somebody else’s fault.

But this year is going to be an exceptionally tense and ugly budget process. This is for three main reasons:

  1. The economy is still struggling to get out of the hole that Bush/Cheney put us in,
  2. The County and AFSCME have spent most of the year trying to negotiate a contract, and
  3. Walker is in the fight for his political life as he again runs for governor.

The state of the economy would have been less of a concern if Walker hadn’t dinked around for several months regarding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus dollars). Walker first made a grab at national attention by stating in a nationwide column that he was not going to accept any stimulus dollars. When he realized how stupid he sounded, and what a bad idea it was, he started to back pedal on this position, and then came up with some silly “conditions” on what he expected before taking stimulus dollars. He did this, of course, even though he did not have the legal authority to do so.

Fortunately the County Board quickly grew tired of his obstructionism and just ran him over and the County has been benefiting ever since.

As for the gubernatorial run, well, he has been doing that for seven years, so it is really nothing new. However, Walker has already shown the edge of desperation this year. If he fails to win the governor’s race, his political career is basically over. Oh, he will have a job being the coffee-fetcher for Michael Grebe or something. But when he loses, his status as being a lifelong politician will be over.

That leads to the union contract negotiations. Due to the crappy economy and Walker’s desperation, the union was caught between a rock and a hard place. And we realized it too.

That is why we were eager to get the contract, which was due at the end of last year, negotiated and settled so that this wouldn’t be hanging over anyone’s head by this time of the year.

Unfortunately, Walker felt that quickly resolving the contract was not to his best political advantage. I had throughout the year called for Walker to stop his shenanigans and to sit down and do some honest bargaining. He refused.

Three months ago, showing how things were going, I wrote this:

Walker has used this supposed crisis to help push along the ill-advised sale of the county grounds. He has used this supposed crisis to try to force the unions into an indefinite furlough and to accept hundreds of layoffs, to show how tough he can be as a leader. As a wise man once told me, a rule of thumb in politics is that you can always win more votes running against the union than you can get running with them.

It just so happens that the County is again in negotiations with the unions, and have been since last fall. However, Walker has not allowed the county’s labor negotiators to sit down and work with the unions to hammer out an agreement. I cannot go into specifics at this time, as that the contract talks are still supposed to be going on, and given that I am a county employee and active in the union (but not on the negotiating committee), but I will say this much: Walker is lying through his teeth about what is happening between the County and the unions. When the contracts are signed, trust me, I will tell you the whole story.

Guess what. There is now a tentative contract that the union will be voting on next Tuesday, and I have now received clearance to speak on all of this.

In short, the tentative contract is rather similar to the one that the County Board Personnel Committee had originally authorized to be proposed at the beginning of the year. However, something happened on the way from the county board to the negotiating table, and the offer was altered into something that Walker knew the union would refuse.

This happened twice.

Then Walker went campaigning for days and weeks at a time, slowing down the contract proposal even more. Walker also did a delaying tactic by trying the illegal furloughs and continuous threats of layoffs. In fact, during the entire year, Walker has habitually practiced unfair labor practices by trying to negotiate the contract through the public media, such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Charlie Syke’s radio show. This has happened as recently as this past week.

The reasoning behind Walker’s game-playing was to paint the unions as being the heavies and to force the unions into either extreme concession, much like what recently happened at Mercury Marine, and/or give him an excuse to cut hundreds of workers. This way he could privatize services to his campaign backers and present himself on a statewide basis as being for the taxpayer, hoping they wouldn’t see through his charade.

County Supervisor John Weishan also saw through Walker’s smoke and mirror routine and said as much in a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

[Walker] said a two-year pay freeze proposal for the county’s largest union might not be enough to keep the budget balanced next year. Walker has warned of a potential $90 million shortfall in 2010 and the possible need for layoffs or county employee pay and benefit cuts.

Supervisor John Weishan Jr. said such remarks from Walker undercut negotiations with District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The board’s Personnel Committee voted Tuesday to extend an offer to District Council 48 that includes a pay freeze through this year in exchange for a no-layoff guarantee.

If union employees accept the deal, it could set the stage for a showdown with Walker and lead to the contract issue going to a potentially more costly decision from an arbitrator, Weishan said.

“Walker’s saying, ‘I’m going to fund all these programs,’ then say unrealistically, ‘It’s all the employees’ fault for not taking wage and benefit concessions,’ ” Weishan said.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, the union and the County now have a tentative agreement on a contract.

However, the agreement goes beyond just the pay freeze that Walker is alluding to. The contract is for two years, 2009 and 2010. There is no pay raises for either year. There is an increase in what employees pay for health care, both in premiums and in copays. The copays for out of network providers really jumped up. This will affect mostly county retirees that have moved out of Milwaukee County, either up state or out of the state.

There is also language that would allow up to six weeks of reduced work time. In other words, by county resolution, all union workers, except for those in 24 hour per day, seven days per week jobs (like Sheriff’s Deputies, Corrections Officers and workers at the mental health complex) will have their hours reduced to 35 hours per week for up to six weeks.

In other words, the unions, if they ratify this contract, will be voluntarily giving up two years of raises, paying more for their health care, and also giving up up to 30 hours of pay. In exchange, the unions are only asking to be allowed to keep their jobs.

Now I realize that for some people, the ones that just flat out hate unions and/or government workers, this won’t be enough. But for those people, nothing would be enough. They would also be the first ones having a fit when the services they want are also cut.

For the record, I am planning on voting yes to this contract, and I strongly urge all of my union brothers and sisters to do the same.

As an end note, there is a new blog by rabid, pseudonymous and semi-literate Walker sycophants that just cannot believe that anyone would or could agree to a contract with a no-layoff clause. It just seems impossible to them and their anonymous commenter. I guess that only means that Mayor Tom Barrett has again shown himself to be a much more competent and able leader than Scott Walker.


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