Wisconsin anticipates union bill’s enactment

Amanda Seitz Contributor
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Eager Wisconsin officials are telling workers they’ll still contribute more to employee benefits while Gov. Walker’s embattled legislation is stuck in the courts.

Brad Karger, the administrator for Marathon County said his county, like many others, will have workers contribute 15 percent to their health care and 5.8 percent to retirement starting next year.

“We’re projecting for next year’s budget all of the suggestions Governor Walker has in terms of employee contributions,” Karger said.

When his county requested that workers increase health care contributions last year, the unions said no.

But this year, Karger, who said he’s confident that Walker’s legislation will be enacted soon, doesn’t have to worry about unions.

Karger said Wisconsin counties are “overwhelmingly” deciding to up employee contributions for next year, free from the oversight of unions and despite Judge Maryann Sumi’s ruling.

Some local governments may be rushing to make new budgets under the Walker legislation because they feel freed from union rule, said Cleta Mitchell, a partner at Foley & Lardner and a political law attorney.

“Governments are feeling as though they have a backstop and they don’t have to feel so terrorized by the unions any more,” Mitchell said.

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Recently, West Allis, a metropolitan Milwaukee school district agreed to stop deducting union dues from teacher paychecks and increased their pay into health care premiums and retirement plans, The Milwaukee Sentinel reported.

Other schools, like Waupun School Board, reached an agreement with it’s union to freeze salary and increase health care as well as retirement contributions.

Republican Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir sees this move as a front.

“It gives a false sense that, ‘look we’re contributing,’” Vukmir said. “They’re not backing off, it’s kind of a ploy that they’re using.”

Vukmir said those who are write contracts now may be bitter later.

“We’ve heard from many school districts and levels of government, that they realize the effect of what we’re doing is creating greater local control,” Vukmir said. “Others it took a while to realize, ‘wow, we’re in control.’ The ones that are settling contracts now are going to be really hurt.”

In Weston, Wisconsin talks of increased employee benefit contributions were on the table long before Walker came into the picture, but now the city feels more confident about asking employees to pay half of their pension next year.

Weston Administrator Dean Zuleger said raising employee contributions is more about following demands that voters made last fall when they elected Gov. Walker.

“Communities who are trying to circumvent the legislation (by renewing union contracts) are taking the democratic form of the election out of the hands of the people,” Zuleger said.

“I think it’s a great disservice to the electoral process.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday on whether Gov. Walker’s bill violated the state’s open meeting laws.