By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
Madison — No pay raises, no more “shift-stacking” overtime.
The state Office of State Employment Relations’ 2012-13 Employee Compensation plan was applauded and attacked Tuesday — seen by Republicans as “historic changes” to a system in need of fixing, and blasted by a key Democrat as a “power grab” for the Walker administration.
In the end, the proposal, submitted to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations, is expected to save taxpayers cash, but it will come with some pain for the nearly 41,000 state public employees covered.
‘Power grab’ or budget fix?
In his memo to the committee, Employment Relations Director Gregory Gracz calls for “no general wage adjustments” for the biennium. In other words, the administration recommends a pay freeze for the 40,930 employees under the compensation plan.
“That’s one way to phrase that, a pay freeze,” Chris Schoenherr, deputy secretary for the Department of Administration, told Wisconsin Reporter. “Because of where we’re at with the state economy, we think it’s prudent at this time to hold the line.”
The compensation plan, which would take effect Jan. 1 if approved, does include discretionary merit raises for rewarding exemplary performance, as agencies find money to do so.
“Once again, the governor is stripping away the rights of (middle-income) workers and forcing them to serve at the whim of his political appointees,” Barca said in a statement.
Barca charged that the compensation plan gives bureaucrats the power to make unilateral changes, and the proposal includes “vague language” that lacks accountability.
State employee Dave Newman told Wisconsin Reporter that the freeze will hit his income and the state as a whole in a number of ways.
“That will make five years of 0 percent increases,” the Department of Workforce Development self-described “grunt” said of the plan’s impact on his wages. He pointed to former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s state pay cuts, asserting that targeting public worker pay has been a bipartisan initiative in recent years.
Newman and fellow state employees now are required to contribute to their pensions and pay more for their health insurance under Walker-led reforms earlier this year. He said the pay freeze on top of the increased contributions will hit lower-paid employees hardest.
More so, Newman, with more than 25 years of experience in the public sector, said his agency and others will suffer in attracting qualified employees.
Republican leadership and administration officials say what has mostly gone ignored is that the plan keeps base pay intact, and budget repairs made to fill a $3.5 billion-plus budget hole didn’t include mass pubic employee layoffs.
“The (fiscal) situation in the state in right now is making necessary a lot of sacrifices for lot of people,” said Bob Delaporte, spokesman for state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. “The big thing is, jobs weren’t lost. There weren’t massive layoffs.”
In his memo, Gracz notes very little is changing in the compensation plan from the former collective-bargaining agreements, including base pay, supplemental pay and benefits.
An end to ‘shift-stacking’
What will change is what some have described as an egregious overtime practice, sometimes referred to as shift-stacking.
The compensation plan puts an end to public employees calling in sick, picking up the sick leave, then reporting for the following shift — getting paid for a 16-hour day.
“A small group of employees would repeat this pattern day after day, inflating their salaries to six-figure sums,” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations said in a statement.
Reports of bus drivers pulling down north of $100,000 a year colored the debate over the practice in the spring legislative session.
Employees in the state Department of Corrections, officials said, have been the biggest users of the overtime allowance. The current system “rewards” the most senior employees with overtime when they choose, also allowing them to turn down overtime, making it mandatory for junior-level employees, at the most unpopular times, particularly holidays.
Schoenherr said the Department of Corrections estimates its savings through the changes could approach $5 million. Department officials did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.
The broader issue, Fitzgerald and other critics of the overtime practice assert, is the impact on the state’s pension system. Retirement payments in Wisconsin are based on an employee’s final three years of service, and that includes overtime in the compensation calculations.
Fitzgerald said that’s a “double whammy to taxpayers who have been on the hook not only for the inflated salaries but for the decades of padded pensions that follow.”
Office of State Employment Relations
101 East Wilson Street, 4th Floor
Madison, WI 53702