Monday, February 22, 2010

In The Interest Of Fairness

On Friday, I told of the fact that Scott Walker was considering adding ten more days of furlough to county employees. The problem stems from the fact that Walker issued an illegal budget that did not meet the legal requirements of being balanced. The County Board, instead of taking on the role of being responsible leaders as they have in years past, caved in to the political blackmail that Walker's henchmen at CRG were putting on them and enacted their version of an illegal budget.

On Saturday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel finally got around to reporting what I had already reported. In their story, they tracked Walker down at whatever campaign event he was at at the time and got this from him (emphasis mine):
"It's less about the budget and more about fairness," Walker said. The plan to be unveiled Monday will help address the $10.3 million budget gap, but won't eliminate it, he said.
Well, in the interest of fairness, let me point out some things.

One, all throughout 2009, Walker was putting up many of his cronies and cronies of his cronies up for various step increases and flat out raises, with which the County Board's Personnel Committee blindly agreed to without question. These raises totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and were more than enough to offset the eventual "cuts" that Walker had them take. That is like a store raising it's prices by 30% and then having a "sale" cutting the new prices by 10%. The consumer (or in this case, the tax payer) thinks they are getting a bargain, but they are actually still paying more. I would think that the unions would have readily agreed to the cuts if they were given big honking raises first.

Another thing about fairness is that it is built into federal and state laws regarding labor relations. One of those inconvenient fairness things is that there should be no disparity in contracts. In other words, a governmental body cannot offer one nice contract to one union, but then try to stick it to another union. If the aggrieved union decides to take the disputed contract talk into arbitration, the arbitrator will look at the contracts that said government has made with other unions, as well as the contracts between other neighboring governments and their unions. The arbitrator will then choose which ever proposal is most in line with these other contracts.

In the interest of fairness, I have to point out that this is another area that Walker has failed in.

He has already given the nurses union a raise in exchange for paying more for their health care. Of course, Walker did it as a part of a bait and switch scam he played on them. Walker's negotiator and the nurses have also reached a tentative collateral agreement in which the nurses would be spared all 12 of their furlough days in exchange for giving up their four minor holidays.

Other governments have been able to reach agreements with their unions by sitting down and doing some good faith bargaining with them. One of them is City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, as Jake points out in his blog (emphasis his):
There's no question Milwaukee County workers have some benefits that are out of whack with what many people get in their jobs. But they also give up some of the pay that would come with it, and do thankless jobs like social work that the majority people are too unqualified and uninterested in doing, but are requirements for the world we live in. Walker could have shown legitimate leadership by negotiating in good faith, and offered items such as required contributions to employee pensions and lowered benefits in the future (or an encouragement of early retirement).

This is what Tom Barrett did in the City of Milwaukee for the 2010 budget (I know, I was there), and got the needed concessions out of most City workers with fewer furlough days, and no major holes in the budget deficit. Now, the City still has structural issues in its budget, but they were lessened in this latest round of negotiations, because THE MAYOR'S OFFICE DECIDED TO NEGOTIATE AND GOT SOME OF WHAT THEY WANTED. Walker has decided to score political points with suburb boys instead of work with the unions, and the County workers have rightfully told him to shove it. The Milw. County union's act is no different than corporations shopping their facilities to local communities, trying to score any tax break they can at the expense of everyone else in that town. Strangely, angry white man radio ignores those people who work for the best deal, I suppose because they have money and white collars, while dumping on people who perform real work and have blue collars that are trying to do the same thing.
Adding to Walker's disparity dilemma, his newly added furloughs only target 1500 county workers, sparing many unions, and even splitting the same locals, such as mine. Some of our local's members would be spared while others, including myself and other vocal dissidents, would have these extra days foisted on them. (Is he just trying to be fair, or is he trying to quash those that would speak truth to power?)

Given these other contracts, and the fact that the unions has made it abundantly clear that they will not cave in to Walker's extortion tactics, it would be the smart bet that the union's contract goes to arbitration. All the union has to do is play it smart and offer a reasonable proposal based on these other contracts, such as a small raise (backdated to early January 2009), an increase in health care costs, and maybe a few furlough days, and the arbitrator would surely accept that over Walker's draconian and off kilter proposal.

The union's opposition to these illegal stunts by Walker will surely lead to lay offs for several hundred workers, but with the backdated raise, at least they would get a small check to help them for a little while.

The lay offs would present another problem for Walker. He has continuously cut and cut staff to the point that it is already having a negative effect on the level of services that the county can provide. The perfect example of this is the Income Maintenance program, which Walker allowed to become so decimated that the State had to intervene to protect tax payers from a class action lawsuit.

Further cuts would jeopardize other programs, like Family Care, mental health services, transit and/or the parks. If Walker chose to do so, he could focus all the cuts in one area. One of these areas would be the discretionary services that the county provides like transit or the parks. Of course, either of those would be highly politically unpopular. But so would any of the other cuts.

In the interest of fairness, I have to point out that Walker has really painted himself into a corner with all of his hubris and political avarice.

In the interest of fairness, I need to point out that not only are Walker and the Board exempt from all of the furloughs, pay cuts, etc., but they are actually getting raises in their salaries.

In the interest of fairness, I also need to point out that if the County had agreed to the Tentative Agreement last year, the one that was worked out in good faith bargaining, the County would have saved millions in dollars in pay freezes and higher health care payments by the workers.

Also in the interest of fairness, I have to point out that Walker's whole idea of balancing his illegal budget through furloughs might not be the best idea. Rob Henken, former county administrator and current president of the Public Policy Forum has a lot of food for thought regarding the wisdom of furloughs, including this (the whole article is a must read though):
It can be argued that as a short-term strategy to help offset temporary recession-induced budgetary problems, or as a response to unanticipated mid-year budget crises, furloughs may make a great deal of sense. But public officials who might be contemplating furloughs as a longer term strategy would do well to carefully cost out and deliberate the full range of impacts.
Unfortunately, the County Board has proceeded to make three serious blunders in one daft act. When they decided to endorse Walker's illegal maneuvering by passing a resolution adopting Walker's proposed cuts and furloughs, they not only failed to follow good fiscal planning, but they also gave Walker a patsy that he can blame for his failed leadership. Thirdly, they opened the door to a long and costly court battle on all of the illegal actions, which only furthers to squander tax payer dollars that could have been better spent on actually providing services to the people, instead of to Walker's gubernatorial campaign.

The saddest part is that no one will win in this battle. The unions will probably lose hundreds of workers whose only fault is working for a county executive who puts his political aspirations before the best interests of the county. The Board loses as they put themselves in the role of Walker's patsy and help him deflect some of the blame that is all his. Walker loses because it will show his true incompetence and will irreparably damage his chances for further political advancement.

But the biggest losers will be the citizens of Milwaukee County. The neediest, the disabled and the elderly will have services delayed even longer, and the tax payers will have to foot the bill for Walker's inane game playing.

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