By Kevin Binversie
MILWAUKEE — Of all the public employee contracts pending in the state of Wisconsin, none has been watched with more intensity by political observers than those of Milwaukee County.
Milwaukee County, after all, hasn’t had a contract with its employees — the majority are represented by American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees District Council 48 — since 2009, when Gov. Scott Walker was then-County Executive Scott Walker.
Add in the environment of public employee unions and teacher unions in a mad rush to lock down contracts before the state’s collective bargaining bill becomes law at the end of the month, the county’s long history of backing union rights, not to mention the county’s electoral history of backing Democrats, and it made a near perfect recipe for kowtowing to public employee unions and other unknown, behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
Except, the expected did not come.
On Thursday, in a vote to close out “Unfinished Business,” the 19-member Milwaukee County Board voted 14-5 to approve a work-around measure under the current contract rules.
In the work around, new county hires would see their retirement age rise to 64 from 60. New employees would see the county’s pension contribution lowered from 2 percent to 1.6 percent of the new employee's salary, and the number of furlough days governing county employees would shrink. In the meantime, the county would continue with its negotiations with the AFSCME local.
Upon passage of the measure, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway was overheard telling the board and those in attendance, “This measure saves the county $447,000 every month.” It's a figure that when extrapolated would give Milwaukee County a savings of nearly $5.4 million over the course of a calendar year.
What it means, in short, is that the measure passed Thursday pushes the pause button on attempts by AFSCME District 48 to ram through contracts before the state’s new collective bargaining law takes effect June 29. That's when Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette will publish the law.
If any union contracts were to be rammed through by the board, such an action would have been done during Thursday's meeting, because the board doesn't meet again until after the law is finalized. So barring the calling of a special meeting of board to deal wholly with the union contracts — which just began to be negotiated — the next time the contracts could come up would be July 28. That's the next scheduled board meeting since the Milwaukee County Board only meets in regular session the third Thursday of every month.
Austerity measures aren’t fun and easy, especially when you’re the one having to make the cut and the one who has to live with the cuts. But the other options — mass layoffs and increased taxes in an economy already struggling — are even more difficult.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.