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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Scott Walker Sends 76 More People to the Unemployment Line

Savings from county layoffs questioned

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The layoffs of 76 Milwaukee County employees was news to AFSCME District Council 48 Executive Director Richard Abelson, whose union represents the soon-to-be-unemployed workers.

Although the county is supposed to inform the union of pending layoffs and provide documentation of the financial benefits of laying off employees, Abelson said the county provided no such proof.

“They sent us a notice that they were laying people off and the layoff notices at the same time,” Abelson said. “They’ve never even attempted to sit down with us and show us their numbers.”

According to a fact sheet supplied by Fran McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the county would save $1.8 million by laying off 27 security guards, 25 parks maintenance workers, nine airport employees and 15 other workers. More than $400,000 would be saved by privatizing the 27 security positions alone, the county asserts.

Abelson isn’t buying it.

“I’m questioning the upfront premise that they’re going to save $400,000,” he said. “Where do they get that number? What are the components of that number? They’ve never shared any of that information with us.”

The county issued a request for proposal (RFP) on Aug. 3, 2009, for the security workers, estimating that privatized workers would staff the courthouse complex, city campus and Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center on Jan. 1, 2010.

On Tuesday, McLaughlin told the Shepherd that Wackenhut Corp. won the security contract from among four bidders, but it has not been signed yet. Wackenhut workers are already at the courthouse, apparently to fill in for county employees who may not show up for their final weeks.

The other 49 laid-off workers at the parks, the airport and in the Departments of Transportation and Public Works would not be replaced by privatized workers, McLaughlin said.

About $1.4 million would be saved from leaving those positions unfilled, about $28,000 per position.

Abelson scoffed at the county’s estimate of saving almost $2 million from the mass layoffs.

“Where does that number come from?” Abelson said. “It’s just as mysterious as the $400,000” saved from privatizing security services.

AFSCME also is fighting the county’s decision last year to replace housekeeping staff with privatized employees, saying that the county had not provided documentation of cost savings, as required.

“In our estimation they had not been able to come close to justifying the numbers that they claimed,” Abelson said.

A Week of Bad News for Employees

The layoffs announcement was only one piece of bad news in a string of setbacks for county employees.

On Feb. 25, the county board approved Walker’s plan to increase unpaid furlough days from 12 to 22 days this year, forcing more than 1,400 employees to lose about a month of wages. The county claims the furloughs would save $2 million in 2010.

Yet Abelson challenged that assumption as well, saying that understaffed departments will have to call in workers on overtime pay—time and a half—to replace furloughed employees who would have been paid regular hourly wages.

The combination of layoffs and furlough days is an attempt to close an estimated $10 million hole in the county’s 2010 budget.

The deficit was created because the budget was built on assumptions that included wage and benefit concessions that had not been presented to the county’s unions prior to the final budget. The original budget proposed by Walker contained about $32 million in concessions never presented to the union; the final version of the budget contained an estimated $10 million in concessions.

In fact, tentative agreements with the county’s unions had been negotiated with Walker’s labor negotiator and approved by two board committees in 2009. But those agreements were rejected while the budget was being crafted last fall.

Abelson calls the county’s 2010 budget “illegal” because the state requires counties to pass balanced budgets.

“This budget clearly was not a balanced budget,” Abelson said. “This budget presumed that there would be concessions from the unions that at the time that they passed the budget hadn’t even been proposed. I don’t know how you can stretch the definition of a legal budget to somehow include items that haven’t been proposed at the bargaining table when you have an equally binding obligation by state statute to negotiate in good faith.”

He said current negotiations with the county are at a standstill. The county has submitted its latest package of concessions as its final revised offer in arbitration, and has filed suit against AFSCME’s final offer, which is the tentative agreement that had been approved by the board committees last year.

“We can’t go forward until those issues are resolved,” Abelson said.