Let's help out Wisconsin's tight-lipped administration secretary. | WisCommunity

Let's help out Wisconsin's tight-lipped administration secretary.

[img_assist|nid=55598|title=Huebsch|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=159|height=196]Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch today was somewhat uninformative about how the State of Wisconsin should go about implementing the new union-busting legislation passed by Republicans and blessed by conservatives on the state Supreme Court.

Oh, Huebsch did sound definitive in saying his department "is moving forward with plans to implement Act 10. In the coming days, I will be working with my staff to set a timeline and develop a plan for increasing state employee pension and health insurance premium contributions." However, he wasn't so sure about picking up the pieces on local public employee contracts.

"With regard to local government employees," he stated, "I will also be setting a timeline for pension contributions. However, the timing of changes to the health insurance premium contributions of local government employees will depend on when existing contracts expire and the status of any current contract negotiations."

Good thing (not!) that our state government is busy cracking the whip to ensure local governments and school districts claw back on any contracts they've recently signed. Even if that's likely to be one hell of a hard thing to accomplish. But hey, what good is authoritarianism if you can't, upon your slightest whim, incite fear and loathing all the way down the ranks?

But in all his pronouncements, Huebsch conveniently overlooked the uncertain status of state employee contracts in the pipeline, so let's help him out.

Dear Mr. Huebsch: Your concern regarding "when existing contracts expire and the status of any current negotiations" is silent regarding state employees, but that silence speaks volumes.

First, your boss, then merely the governor-elect, convinced the outgoing Legislature last fall to reject tentative contract agreements with a number of the 18 public employee unions representing state employees. That's why all those unions are without a current contract and have been since before Scott Walker was even inaugurated. Because, hey, why would Walker want the state to sign off on contracts, banged out over many months of good-faith negotiations, that contained very modest adjustments? That would hamper him from quickly enacting his then-secret plan to gut collective bargaining. At the time he merely said he wanted to "review" the contracts. 

Just for the record (and nobody, especially not in the mainstream news media, has paid any notice to this): The status of current negotiations with state bargaining units is: there aren't any. Nor have there been any since Walker assumed office. Since last fall, state employee unions without active contracts have been operating under what the state oxymoronically calls "dynamic status quo," which is bureaucratese meaning: The situation is changing, but your expired contract terms aren't. At least not quite yet.

Oh, technically there are those open contracts -- the ones, you know, that Walker said he was going to "review" some day. The dates of those contracts are now all but expired. But nothing has happened or will likely ever happen regarding them. That's because Walker has, since Day One, refused via his Office of State Employee Relations to conduct any negotiations. That's right. the Walker-era OSER, whose main job is to manage contracts, has been sitting around not managing contracts. Boy, now there's an agency that now seems way overstaffed.

In theory, some unions continue to remain in the midst of contract negotiations but not once in nearly six months have they been able to get the Walker administration to sit down with them at the bargaining table. And that's just for past (and never approved, thanks to Walker) contracts, not even to mention the next round of contracts that should be in full-blown negotiation now.

Notwithstanding a final determination regarding the legality of Act 10, the state's refusal to talk flies in the face of the current law's requirement that both sides bargain in good faith. The state surely can't be bargaining in good faith if it refuses to schedule any meetings. Of course, do you think Injustice Prosser will care? We didn't expect that he, or you, would.

Not to worry though because now, the Walker administration can proudly announce that state employees once again can have, at the state's pleasure, contracts, albeit bad contracts, going forward forever. If they can get past their annual recertification votes that give them collective bargaining status, of course.

They shoot horses, don't they, Mr. Huebsch?

In sum, all this is why some state employees have now gone TWO YEARS and more without a new contract. That's why they're still stuck with the crumbs offered up by the Doyle administration, which despite GOP rhetoric to the contrary was similarly flint-hearted, and which not only kept raises low but then imposed unpaid furloughs and lay-offs, taking even more state employee earnings away. The state worker pay curve has been more or less flat as a pancake for several years now and is at best staying that way if Act 10 actually kicks in.

It all adds up to a significant loss in buying power for public employees in this state that has now lasted for years. And the beauty of it is (if you think like Walker) those workers will never, ever catch back up, thanks to Act 10's new inflation cap on raises. But that's clearly okay with your boss, who thinks state employees are too well compensated and that what they really need is yet another haircut or three.

After offering state workers the permanent prospect of a raise that's no more than the rate of inflation, absent a statewide referendum that will never happen, the Walker administration may later over-exert its authority again and make them pay even more towards their pensions and health coverage. That's before the Republican Party tries to take public pensions away completely and substitute the ever-popular but financially disastrous and special-interest-friendly 401-K alternative, or something like it. After all, Act 10 forces the state's retirement system to conduct a study of itself, overseen by a stacked deck of Walker-appointed panelists who surely will go in pre-disposed to regard the current system, although celebrated as the most stable and best performing of any pension system in any government in the US, as broken and or broke.

Very probably, Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule will soon kick in, here. Remember that rule? If you break it, you pay for it. And it's the Walker administration and the Republican legislature that have been busy trying to break the Wisconsin Retirement System and collective bargaining.

Glad we could clear all that up for you, Mr. H. Now you can get on with your mission, in the process wrecking the lives and careers and morale of state and local public workers, while causing economic disruption across Wisconsin as your excellent new law sucks a billion dollars in local wages from communities large and small, driving good people out of public service to early retirement or the private sector, where the real money is. To places from which you'll be forced to hire them as consultants at three or four times the price to do the same work they do now.

Have a nice day. And be sure tell your employees they're doing a hell of a job, whenever you see them in the hallways. But maybe it'd be best to start wearing sunglasses at all times, to shield yourself from the glare of angry public opinion.


June 15, 2011 - 8:27pm