The High Cost Of Walker's Right-To-Work Law
June 2, 2016

Earlier this year, Scott Walker and the other Republicans were doing victory tours around Wisconsin, bragging that Act 10 - a Right to Work law aimed solely at public sector workers - had saved taxpayers some $5 billion over the past five years. Of course, these claims came from cherry picked data and fudged math and didn't stand up to any type of analysis.

In reality, Act 10 didn't save any money. It merely shifted the burden onto the counties and municipalities. And despite that, state spending has been increasing, despite the drop in revenues and the supposed savings.

But in Milwaukee County, Act 10 did not only not save any money, it is proving to be extremely expensive.

In 1991, Milwaukee County enacted the "Rule of 75," which meant that when an employee whose age and years of service totaled 75, they were eligible to retire with full pension benefits. However, this rule only applied to non-union represented employees or represented employees that were hired in 1993 or earlier. Represented employees weren't eligible for full benefits until they reached the age of 60 or 64, depending on their date of hire.

When Act 10 was enacted, AFSCME, the union representing public sector workers, chose not to play the Republicans' union busting games and didn't bother holding a vote to recertify. Their contention was that only the unions could decertify themselves and AFSCME wasn't about to do that. Thus, Milwaukee County chose to not recognize the union and claimed that all of its members were now non-represented.

This meant that over 1,000 employees suddenly became eligible for the Rule of 75.

Recognizing this loophole, the county then passed a resolution which basically said that if the employee wasn't eligible for the Rule of 75 then, they weren't eligible for it now.

AFSCME filed a class action lawsuit, arguing that the previously represented employees were now eligible. In other words, the county was trying to have it both ways.

Recently, the Honorable Stephanie G. Rothstein issued her decision in the matter, ruling for AFSCME, and agreeing that these 1,000 employees were indeed eligible for the Rule of 75:

Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 32, announced today that the Union has received a favorable decision from a Milwaukee County Circuit Court in its ongoing battle on behalf of Union members who work for Milwaukee County. Judge Stephanie G. Rothstein issued her 10-page decision dated May 27, granting Union members additional early retirement benefits on terms previously available predominately to non-Union employees.

Noting that Act 10 “prohibits bargaining over all subjects except for ‘base wages’,” Judge Rothstein determined that the County’s Ordinance, passed on Sept. 29, 2011, granted the Rule of 75 to employees who were hired prior to January 1, 2006, so long as they are “not covered by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.” Previously, Union employees were granted the benefit only if hired prior to 1994. The Judge decided:

[U]pon the effective date of Wisconsin 2011 Act 10, there was no collective bargaining agreement in effect, or executed, or even being negotiated; there was no status quo protection existing under MERA with regard to “conditions of employment;” and therefore there was no pre-existing legal obligation between the parties as it related to conditions of employment beyond wages. Therefore, because no collective bargaining agreement was in effect, the plaintiffs were not “covered by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement” as used in Ordinance 11-15 for purposes of evaluating their eligibility for the Rule of 75.

Badger said that the Union continues to insist that its members be treated fairly. “This case demonstrates yet another consequence of the state’s demolition of collective bargaining. When the county is left to its own unilateral actions, the give and take of collective bargaining is gone,” Badger said.

The process the county used led to them granting benefits in an ordinance change that the county argued to the Court was meant to ensure that employees “would not be eligible for the Rule of 75.”

Mark Sweet, an attorney at Sweet and Associates, LLC, representing the Union, noted that the Court cited longstanding Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent in holding the County to the language it enacted in the ordinance. As cited by the Court, “It is the enacted law, not the un-enacted intent, that is binding on the public.”

This would mean a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars to the county's pension fund.

Ironically, the current county executive, the conservative "Democrat" Chris Abele, is known to sing the praises of Act 10, and how it saved the county so much money. It is not known if he still feels that way now.

It is a sure bet that the county will appeal this decision all the way to the state supreme court, which has been known to ignore the law and rule in the way that their conservative funders want them to rule. But then again, the conservatives love to stick it to Milwaukee, so who knows how this will end up.

But for now, there are a lot of very happy county employees.

The actual court ruling can be seen here.

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