PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

Bad Move By Walker, Bad Reporting By Paper

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on December 23, 2010

There was a major ruling today in Wisconsin Appellate Court that will have a major impact on Milwaukee County workers and tax payers alike.

But to understand the ruling, there must first be some history.
In 2009, Scott Walker declared a fiscal emergency, stating that Milwaukee County faced a $15 million deficit. In order to address this, he ordered all county workers to start on a reduced work week schedule. This meant that all workers would only be putting in 35 hours per week instead of the standard 40 hours.
The arbitrator also found that Walker failed to prove that there was even a fiscal emergency, when an analysis by the county’s auditor, Jerome Heer, found that there was only a minimal deficit, if even that. This was later reinforced when Walker claimed a $24 million turnaround resulting in a supposed $9 million surplus.
The unions grieved this, claiming that it was a violation of the contract between the union and the county. It went to arbitration and on the first day of the imposition of said reduction, it was found that it was indeed in violation of the contract, and that Walker had overstepped his authority in the unilateral imposition of the reduced hours. The arbitrator issued a cease and desist order and that all affected workers be made whole again. This meant that county workers were given a free hours worth of pay.
Walker chose to appeal the arbitrator’s findings and took it to a friendly judge, Dennis Flynn. Judge Flynn ruled in Walker’s favor and vacated the arbitrator’s finding. The unions appealed this, which brings us to today.
The Honorable Appellate Court Judge Ralph Adam Fine ruled on the appeal and found that the circuit court did not have the authority to rule on this matter, since the contract between the union and the county specified that such complaints go to arbitration, and by law, the arbitration was binding. The only way the court could rule on that is if there was some indication of fraud or other illegal activity related to the arbitrator’s findings.
What this means is that the county could be on the hook for millions of dollars in back pay which was illegally withheld. Since the County doesn’t have that kind of money laying around, due to the need to fix Walker’s other disasters, such as the O’Donnell Park issue or the problems at the mental health complex.
It is more likely that the unions will hold this over the county’s head as they get back to negotiating a contract, something that Walker has delayed for the past two years.
Either way, the tax payers will take the hit for Walker’s political gimmickry.
But one would not have known all of this by reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the issue. As Tom Foley (aka Illusory Tenant) points out, the paper took some journalistic liberties in their reporting, stating that Judge Fine’s ruling stated Walker overstepped his authority.
It does make one wonder what other stories the paper has been getting wrong and if it is even worth the paper it is printed on.
Finally, it will be interesting, and possibly even fun, to watch what Marty Biel and the state level of AFSCME will do with this finding as Walker prepares to unilaterally try to enforce his petty despotic ways on them.
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