March 2, 2011 – On Feb. 11, 2011, Gov. Walker released the details of his Budget Repair Bill directed at addressing the state’s budget crisis. The bill, and some of its details, has been highly publicized. On Feb. 25, 2011, Assembly Republicans passed the bill. It is unknown when the Senate will vote on the bill.
Regardless of one’s political bent, there is no question that the bill, if made law, will significantly change the landscape of public-sector employment in Wisconsin. It will take time for covered employers and employees to adjust to the changes mandated by the bill. However, the bill, if made law, will require covered employers to rapidly implement some of its provisions.
According to Gov. Walker, the proposed changes are necessary to avoid massive public-sector layoffs. His office has supplied various data in support of the bill. Many have challenged the basis and need for the proposed changes, as evidenced by historic protest levels in recent weeks.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) is the state agency that would primarily administer and enforce changes impacting public-sector employees. According to WERC General Counsel Peter Davis, the bill could impact as many as 200,000 public-sector employees in 2,000 collective bargaining units across the state.
The following are some of the bill’s key provisions from a public employment standpoint, excepting some public safety employees:
- Limits collective bargaining to the subject of base wages.
- Limits base wage increases to a percentage no greater than the percentage change in the consumer price index, unless a larger increase is authorized after local referendum.
- Prohibits collective bargaining on matters not permitted under the Wisconsin Municipal Employment Relations Act.
- Requires an initial certification election in April 2011 to determine whether a majority of bargaining unit employees still want to be represented by an existing union. If a union receives less than 51 percent of votes from all bargaining unit employees, the union would be decertified at the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Thereafter, certification elections of organized public-sector employers would be held annually.
- Limits union contracts to one year in length.
- Prohibits covered employers from collecting union dues through salary deductions. A union would have to collect its dues money directly from employees.
- Allows employees to stay in a union without paying union dues.
- Eliminates collective bargaining for employees of the University of Wisconsin System, UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority, and certain home-care and child-care providers.
- Requires participating employees to contribute one-half of all actuarially required retirement contributions as determined by the Employee Trust Funds Board.
- Prohibits covered employers from paying any employee-required contribution.
- Prohibits covered employers from paying, after 2011, more than 88 percent of the average premium cost of plans offered in the tier with the lowest employee premium cost.
Strikes and work stoppages
- Authorizes covered employers to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state of emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit-down, stay-in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the operations or services of state government, including mass resignations or sick calls.
Additional impact on WERC
The bill presents WERC with a preliminary administrative challenge by requiring it to conduct initial certification elections in April 2011 for all covered bargaining units. Mr. Davis states that WERC would likely conduct such elections by mail ballot simply because it lacks the resources to conduct them in-person within such a short window. WERC may also implement an emergency rule changing the fees charged to parties in such elections to offset the unanticipated costs associated with conducting so many elections in 2011.
The bill also would likely result in a significant decrease in the number of union mediation, interest-arbitration, and grievance-arbitration cases presently handled by WERC. However, there could be a surge in disciplinary cases under the existing civil service law applicable to nonrepresented public-sector employees, especially if a number of current bargaining units decline to recertify their existing unions.
Wisconsin lawyers who represent employers or unions in public-sector labor matters should stay abreast of further legal developments concerning this bill and keep their clients timely advised.
About the author
com tthompson axley Troy D. Thompson is a partner with Axley Brynelson, LLP, Madison, and chairs the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group. Contact Troy at (608) 283-6746.