HASTE > WASTE: End of bargained grievance procedures causing local Wisconsin governments major headaches | WisCommunity

HASTE > WASTE: End of bargained grievance procedures causing local Wisconsin governments major headaches

[img_assist|nid=65236|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=211|height=211]One of the most damning aspects of the current Wisconsin Republican majority under Gov. Scott Walker is has been its impatience. The state's GOP leaders have displayed an extreme bias toward moving the law-making progress along at maximum speed. In part they appear to do this in order to neutralize the opposition. In part, too, it may be the GOP's own repressed uncertainty over the effiicacy of its policies. Better to act before you think things all the way through, than admit or just realize that your ideological stance is at best questionable.

Another factor is that consevative think-tank groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and GOP-friendly special interests often serve up draft legislation ready to eat. So there's no need, in Repubilcan minds, to bother with time-consuming nuisances like legitimate public hearings or proper advance notice of sessions.

Finally, this blitzkrieg approach is also just the GOP's current authoritarian style, made manifest. To Republicans, it seems, speed connotes competence and exhibits power, providing a bonus side effect of intimidating the opposition. But the other side of that is an unfortunate tendency toward self-delusion. In the haste comes much waste; Laws are badly written, sometimes so badly written that even some Republicans, like Sen. Dale Schultz, have blanched, stopping the runaway train. The blowback from the public has been enormous, and on a large scale counterproductive to the GOP agenda and hold on power.

This Wisconsin GOP tendency toward insta-government is manifest all the way down to the local level. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today reported on how the conservative, up-start Town of Waukesha Board has held tens of hours of secret meetings that appear to violate the open meetings law. (see URL below). That has proved wasteful as courts have overturned some decisions of the board on the basis that it didn't keep proper minutes of its proceedings or -- mirrowing the Democratic Party complaint against the Republican majority in the state Assembly --the board didn't follow other established legal procedures for government meetings.

The Wisconsin State Journal meanwhile ran a piece today (URL also below) highlighting a powerful example of how the Walker administration push to virtually end collective bargaining for most public employees has already caused mass confusion and created inefficiencies -- even leading in some cases to the unintended consequence of local governments actually sitting down and informally working with the very labor unions their state government supposedly has defrocked.

One of Act 10's changes in gutting collective bargaining was to trash decades of well-developed and tested grievance procedures worked out between public employees and governments in the state in the course of bargaining. Walker claimed employee workplace rights would be protected thanks to the continuing existence of general civil service rules that would make up for the loss of those negotiated grievance procedures. He neglected to note that, at the state level, he was seizing control of that very kind of rule-making for himself.

The State Journal piece makes it clear that local governments already have encountered major problems with that aspect of the new law. After leaping ahead and throwing out established grievance policies that provide due process for workers in the event of a workplace labor dispute involving performance, pay, benefits and dismissals -- some local governments across the state are now forced to spend a lot more time making things up as they go along.

For instance, one local government drafted new grievance procedures without getting the advice and comment of its employees. Like the Waukesha town board, that government's legislative body met in closed session to work out the rules. From the State Journal article:

Westby said the committee couldn’t have worked in public because employees would have attended. “I can tell you very point blank why we didn’t involve the union, because we would still be on page one,” Westby said. “Every single word and phrase would be argued over until hell froze over."

Westby seems oblivious to the reality that, in a democracy, sound public policy needs to be inclusive and often takes time. Of course, such pesky delays were not problems in fascist Germany or the former USSR. The article goes on:

The patchwork of policies that has sprung up across the state includes fees of up to $400 [for individual public employees] to appeal discipline, a requirement that an employee hire an attorney, and rules under which only a select few facts of a case are considered in the final decision made by the local elected body, Merrill said.

Phillips defended the policies, saying that employees have always paid fees through union dues, that hiring of attorneys makes a more orderly process, and that it is too cumbersome to reexamine every detail in the final appeal.

And yet, government units across Wisconsin managed to do precisely that for decades, protecting worker rights. The Phillips' argument gnores the reality that unions collect dues and use them the way insurance companies collect premiums. Namely: The unions share the load, reducing legal costs for individual members. Most public employees never file a grievance against a government, but when one employee feels wronged, should that individual have to pay huge legal fees in order to have his or her case resolved? It's clear the Walker Act 10 proponents are only too happy to make filing an individual work grievance as expensive and unappetizing as possible.

Meanwhile, the State Journal reported that some local governments already have begun to seen the light:

Union leaders say many of the new rules are unfair. Public administrators for schools and municipalities say it hasn’t been easy to write rules to replace union contract provisions that evolved over 50 years of collective bargaining.

No spit, Sherlock! And therein lies the heart of the matter. Walker and his legislative wrecking crew in a matter of weeks dismantled 50 years of collective bargaining -- decades over which grievance procedures evolved into a reasonably well working system, even if the government still often held the upper hand. Now, under Walkerism, a state employee who files a personal griecance isn't even guaranteed a neutral third party should he or she appeal a state government examiner's rejection of a grievance.  It boils down to: Shut up and get back to work.

The Walker prescription simply is not in accord with American traditions of justice. Nevertheless, Walker and his pals have now stacked the deck, thinking it helps them gain more power. But it's already disempowering them. Local governments along with public employees across Wisconsin -- already reeling over significant pay cuts -- are beginning to feel the negative effects of unchained management in everyday work injustices, too. And they're starting to get back together again. Just at the very moment the iron wall of Republican unanimity is beginning to crumble.

Divide and conquer? Walker tried that tactic on public employees, but it's coming back to bite him and his GOP legislative leadership -- big time.

Published

March 19, 2012 - 4:54pm

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