April 10, 2012 – Police labor unions that challenged a City of Milwaukee ordinance imposing mandatory unpaid furlough days for most city workers recently lost their appeal.
Complaining that City of Milwaukee Ordinance section 350-116 – imposing mandatory unpaid furlough days for city workers – breached the base wage requirement in labor contracts with the city, bargaining units for the Milwaukee Police Department filed actions in 2009.
The ordinance largely exempted fire and police departments, but gave the police chief authority to determine if any employees were furlough-eligible.
Approximately 30 percent of Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization (MPSO) members and 13 percent of Milwaukee Police Association (MPA) members were furloughed for 1-2 days in 2009. The average income lost for a two-day furlough was $582 per employee.
In MPSO’s case, a circuit ruled that the ordinance substantially impaired contract rights but not in violation of constitutional protections because the ordinance served a legitimate public purpose. MPA went to arbitration and lost, but a circuit court vacated the arbitration award.
In two consolidated cases before the District I Wisconsin Court of Appeals, City of Milwaukee v. MPSO and City of Milwaukee v. MPA, 2011AP1174 & 2011AP1783 (April 10, 2012), the court of appeals upheld the ordinance under contracts between the city and both labor groups.
“The contract excerpts provided by the MPSO do not discuss ‘furloughs’ or their equivalent, ‘mandatory unpaid time off.’ Nor does the MPA contract establish any specific limitation on furloughs or mandatory unpaid time off,” wrote Judge Joan Kessler.
The appeals court also rejected the argument that officers must be paid for 40-hour work weeks under their labor contracts, and any deviation violates the contract.
Finally, the court upheld the ordinance despite the labor organizations’ argument that adopting it violated their constitutional protection of contract rights.
“Because we conclude that the ordinance did not violate any provision of either labor agreement, we do not reach the constitutional issues,” Judge Kessler explained.