Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Negotiating One's Way Through The Irregularities And Lies Of Milwaukee County Negotiations

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the baffling strategy of the Chris Abele for Milwaukee County Emperor campaign.  In a nutshell, Abele and his acolytes were accusing the Milwaukee County Board, and namely Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, of the most hideous of crimes - talking to the union!

The accusations fell flat when confronted with rationality and reality, yet they continued with this attack because UNIONS!

The charges were ridiculous for a number of reasons.  Top of the list is that despite Abele's most devout wishes, Act 10 is NOT the law of the land.  The ruling of the Honorable Judge Colas singled out these items and found them unconstitutional:
  • The requirement for annual recertification elections by unions wishing to remain the certified bargaining representative for a bargaining unit,
  • The prohibitions on negotiating fair share and voluntary dues deductions by payroll withholding,
  • The limitation on negotiating anything other than increases in base wages, and
  • The requirement for a referendum prior to negotiating wage increases greater than the CPI increase set forth in the statutory formula.
Furthering belying Abele's claims that the union is decertified is the fact that he continues to hold monthly Joint Safety Committee meetings which include representatives from the unions.

Add to this that if there had been contract negotiations, before any such contract was ratified, it would not only have to be approved by the union members, but it would have to get past the County Board as a whole, Abele's veto and then any override attempt.  Given Abele's anti-worker attitude, it's doubtful it would have gone anywhere.

In other words, it was still a case of trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

But as with his good buddy and hero Scott Walker, when it comes to Chris "Lil Walker" Abele, there is always more.

While all of these shenanigans were going on, Abele and his plutocratic pals were desperately trying to get enough Republicans in the state senate to go along with his power grab bill.  They were losing the senate because of the issues of local control and the fact that they don't really trust Abele either.

So, suddenly, wild paper trail evidence appeared out of nowhere!

Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that there were indeed negotiations going on, and to prove it, he had supplied a copy of the contract and a number of emails to support this supposition.

And that's where things started falling apart for Team Plutocracy, even though no one really knew it at the time.

The contract that Bice provided looked like no other contract that I have seen before.  Furthermore, the two things listed in the contract - a pay raise of 1.5% and a collection of dues from members who voluntarily sign up for it - made no sense.  

Compare the contract that the county allegedly offered to AFSCME, to the more legit appearing contracts offered to the other unions.

A 1.5% raise was already included in the budget.  Why offer what was already in the budget?  And why get upset about it? Was it because Abele was still mad that it wasn't the 3% raise he wanted workers to get?

The other component would be in direct violation of the Colas ruling, so I could see disagreeing with that one.  Besides, the unions wouldn't agree to that necessarily as it was in violation of the ruling.

Indeed, Bice's article contains emails from the union questioning this "offer."

But it was in one of the emails from Fred Bau, the county's labor negotiator, that really raised red flags with all of the irregularities it contained.  Look at the header:

Click to embiggen
The email lists a series of events of Bau's meetings with the union.  This is unusual in itself because any discussion of contract talks would normally be withheld until the Finance, Audit and Personnel Committee met in closed session to discuss this.  (The reason for closed session is indeed to keep it secret so that they don't tip their hand to the unions.)  

The next odd thing about this is that Bau wrote it on a Saturday afternoon.

But the really alarming issue is that when Bau sent the email, he did a blind carbon copy to Amber Moreen, Abele's overpaid Chief of Staff.  

The reason why this is alarming is that as one of the results of the Tom Ament pension scandal, the county executive's office was not to have any knowledge of what was being negotiated, much less have a say in it.  

So in the absurd way it stands now, the labor negotiator serves at the pleasure of the county executive and is answerable to him.  However, the negotiator receives directions from the Board regarding contract negotiations.  In hindsight, they should have taken the negotiator's position and moved it from the executive's control altogether, but unfortunately, they did not.

The fact that the county executive was made aware of the details of the supposed negotiations presents some real puzzling issues:
  • If the County Executive was aware of the supposed negotiations, were they really negotiations?
  • Since the County Executive was aware of the negotiations, was he giving directions to the labor negotiator, which would be illegal?
  • Since there is now proof that Abele was fully aware of the supposed negotiations, why was he feigning ignorance of them?
I think that the answer to the third question is directly related to the answer of the second question.

And as proof that Abele was indeed interfering with negotiations, comes another late breaking article from the local paper (emphasis mine):
The president of the state nurses' union said Monday she was assured by the Milwaukee County labor negotiator that County Executive Chris Abele would sign a proposed contract that included a provision in which the county would collect union dues through payroll deductions.

"I was specifically told the county executive was going to sign it," Candice Owley, the nurses' union president, said in an interview. She said county labor negotiator Fred Bau told her that April 15.

Abele, however, denied he had given that direction to Bau.

"I didn't tell Fred that," Abele said. "Absolutely, without any reservations, unambiguously, no," he said.

Owley said she "was most unhappy" to see Abele's comment Monday that terms of the nurses contract deal and three other tentative union agreements appeared to violate the state's Act 10 law that restricted public worker collective bargaining.
Why would Bau promise anything about the County Executive unless he received this from the County Executive? The simple answer is he wouldn't.

So, given all of the information we have now, there are a few possible scenarios of where the truth of the matter lies:

  • The County Board was legally negotiating with AFSCME and Abele was not only aware of it, but was also illegally involved surreptitiously,
  • The County board illegally negotiating with AFSCME and Abele was not only aware of it, but was also illegally involved surreptitiously, or
  • The County Board was not involved in negotiations with AFSCME and Abele was directing his labor negotiator to make it appear that he was so that he could frame the Board with it in order to turn public opinion against them.
If the gentle reader thinks the third choice is a bit too conspiratorial, just ask former County Supervisor Johnny Thomas, who Abele had framed by his former Director of Administration, Patrick Farley.

In summary, for anyone calling for Dimitrijevic to step down from her office for this, they ought to be calling the same for Abele, since he's just as, if not more so, guilty as anyone.

And given Abele's penchant for vindictiveness, I would offer some friendly advice to Fred Bau: Get thee hence to HR first thing and file for retirement before you get fired.


  1. So it turns out, according to Dan Bice, that Marina is a liar. "we aren't negotiating, we were only talking".
    If union membership is such a good thing, why is it that they continually strive to automatically deduct the dues? You would think the members would be happy to write out a check.

    1. so should we also get rid of direct deposit because people should be happy to go to the bank and deposit their own check?

    2. No...but making every taxpayer write a check for taxes every month like they do a union due might open some eyes.
      I can see you and Capper are distancing yourselfs from Marina at this point. Like every other democrat.

    3. Oh, how so? I see a filing of ethics, if not criminal charges coming Abele's way. When he is forced out, then it will be Dimitrijevic as the Ruler of Milwaukee County. We'll see how fast you'll be crying for the power grab to be reversed then.

  2. "friendly advice to Fred Bau: Get thee hence to HR first thing and file for retirement before you get fired."

    Yup. Don't let any grass grow under your feet. Your head is the next on the chopping block.

  3. To think you argued for Abele's election to the position.

    1. To be fair, I supported Sullivan during the primary.