By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — A political nonprofit funded by a union that helped write a Big Labor-boosting living wage proposal is accusing a Wisconsin lawmaker of using the American Legislative Exchange Council’s playbook in drafting an anti-living wage bill.
State Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, author of AB 750, which would negate certain local living wage ordinances, says Wisconsin Jobs Now’s allegations that ALEC influenced him in any way are complete nonsense.
“This has nothing to do with ALEC,” Kapenga told Wisconsin Reporter. “This has to do with making the right choices for the people of Wisconsin.”
Kapenga’s legislation would wipe out any local living wage contracts that use state or federal funds. Municipalities would still be allowed to pay a living wage if they do so with their own tax base.
Kapenga doesn’t think it’s fair that state and federal taxpayers should be subsidizing living wage ordinances outside of their own communities.
Local taxpayers then could see the true cost of those policies, Kapenga said.
“If they don’t turn out like the elected officials promise, they will probably replace them through their votes,” Kapenga said.
Wisconsin Jobs Now, which received $1.47 million from Service International Employees Union organizations in 2011–12, argues AB 750 was “ripped straight out of the ALEC model-legislation playbook.”
Yet the SEIU heavily influenced a Milwaukee County living wage ordinance that has the potential to boost union membership and revenue while costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
When asked by Wisconsin Reporter if she thought her agency’s statement was hypocritical, Wisconsin Jobs Now Executive Director Jennifer Epps-Addison claimed SEIU didn’t help write the ordinance.
She then indicated she doesn’t see any hypocrisy in Wisconsin Jobs Now’s comments about the bill.
“I think that everybody has a right to look for best practices,” Epps-Addison said. “We just fundamentally believe that the role that ALEC has played in the state and is playing in this country certainly isn’t a best practice. It is a practice of separating democracy for the vast majority of citizens in our communities.”
Epps-Addison also emphasized that her group will always stand up when legislation is written “by and for the benefit of corporations over the people who are your voters and who are the cornerstone of our democracy.”
SEIU representatives, led by Wisconsin Jobs Now community organizer Peter Rickman, worked on about 17 different versions of the Milwaukee County ordinance and provided the legislation’s authors with talking points and legal advice, supervisor Deanna Alexander and other county officials have confirmed.
Alexander told Wisconsin Reporter that Rickman is good friends with supervisor David Bowen, the lead sponsor of the living wage bill that applies to some county employees and firms under contract with the county.
“The SEIU has been seen lurking around the courthouse for months, accompanying supervisors that supported the ordinance to meetings with bureaucrats in the county,” Alexander said.
The biggest boon to Big Labor is a provision that allows contracting companies to be exempt from paying a living wage of $11.32 an hour if their employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and a bona fide labor union.
Sally Sprenger, owner of the county-contracted Supportive Homecare Options Inc., was approached by SEIU officials almost two months before the ordinance was even approved. She was promised she wouldn’t have to pay her entire staff a living wage if her firm joined the union.
Sprenger said about one-fourth of her 1,200 employees who provide services for the county’s Department of Family Care are voluntary members of the SEIU.
If all of her workforce joined the union, Sprenger estimates SEIU would gain an additional $300,000 a year.
Sprenger’s employees, however, could actually end up making less money because of union dues and other fees.
“The employees are the ones who will suffer,” Alexander said. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t call it the living wage ordinance anymore. I’ve renamed it the employee betrayal act.”
The Milwaukee County ordinance, which originally set a wage of $12.45 an hour, would require taking more than $1 million from the tax levy this year and $3.4 million in 2019, according to a fiscal analysis by the county’s nonpartisan comptroller’s office.
Taxpayer costs would go up even further after 2019, when the Family Care Department’s reserves are expected to run out, county comptroller Scott Manske said.
The state, which supplies funding to the Department of Family Care, usually terminates insolvent programs, the comptroller’s report says.
Milwaukee County supervisor Patricia Jursik told Wisconsin Reporter she voted against the ordinance because of the potential impact to taxpayers and the Family Care program.
Jurik also considers the legislation to be unreasonable because it doesn’t include all agencies under contract with the county.
Additionally, there’s no guarantee all contracted-employees reside in Milwaukee County, Jurik said.
“There was so much unfairness to this, when you really look at it, that I didn’t think it was very worthwhile to do … in my mind, it just wasn’t done in an equal manner,” she added.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Democrat, said he will veto the living wage ordinance because of concerns over taxpayer costs and the future of Family Care.
The board approved the measure Feb. 6 by a vote of 12-6.
Contact Adam Tobias at [email protected] of follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias