Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Playing a Game of Chicken With The People's Money

Wauwatosa Politics, Mayor Didier, Governor Walker, Union Negotiations, Union Goon, Union Thuggery, Palace Intrigue

How many of you like palace intrigue as much as I do?

Seems like we have a moat load of it now that this coming Tuesday the Council is going to revisit the ratification of those union contracts they dismissed last month.

On March 15th the Council voted not to ratify agreements with unions representing clerical, dispatch, public works and others. Ostensibly, if the city waited for passage of the Governor’s budget repair bill additional savings would be realized.

In case you haven’t noticed the bill has wound up in the courts and it’s anybody’s guess when the darn thing will pass. The immediate result is that Tosa is spending an additional $20,625 a week in unnecessary personnel costs.

Maybe this is of little consequence as the kingdom’s treasure spilleth-over. Or maybe it’s a game of chicken.

Your guess is as good as mine. Here is what I know.

Agreements reached with OPIEU, IBEW and AFSCME include a wage freeze in year one, a 1.5% bump in year two, 5.8% WRS contribution and 10% towards health insurance.   This would save the city $12,625 a week. Non-represented employees already contribute 10% towards health insurance but the balance of the terms would apply to them as well bringing the total savings to $20,625 per week.

Big deal! The Governor’s budget repair bill will prevail and we’ll be able to wring even more concessions from those greedy union goons. The man on the radio that tells me what to think says you don’t know what you are talking about. You are full of gas.

That may be true. But sometimes you have to be careful about what you ask for. My pal Lawyer always says – A bad deal is better than a good lawsuit. And I happen to think that there is a similar corollary that applies to mediation and arbitration outcomes.

I used to be a union guy back in the day so allow me to explain.

Absent the ratification of these agreements close to twenty-one grand is unnecessarily spent for every week we wait for the budget repair bill litigation to be resolved. Will the repair bill issue be decided next week, next month or next fall? Who knows? Every week we wait more of the money paid by the subjects of the kingdom is tossed over the palace walls. Do the math yourself.

The budget repair bill will save us more!

Not so fast. Consider the following. First-off there are no health insurance savings to be realized. Tosa is self-insured and is not part of the state plan. Secondly, the budget repair bill allows for wages to be negotiated up to the rate of inflation. In a weird twist of fate, under the repair bill wages could actually rise higher than what the agreements call-for.

The screwiest part of all of this is that under the repair bill protective employee unions enjoy a favored status.

Yes folks - there is an 800 pound gorilla in the throne room.

Did you know that fire and police alone is 44% of the city’s payroll? And that the police union is heading for mediation? And that there is a reasonably strong statistical probability that both fire and police contracts will end-up in arbitration?

The man on the radio says you don’t know what you’re talking about. The budget repair bill is going to finish-off those union thugs once and for all!

That’s all well and good. But if the city doesn’t have any agreements in place and fire and police go to arbitration we won’t have any comparables. And you know what? Without the leverage of those comps how does the city extract a pension contribution from protective employees? 

Did you know that the budget repair bill isn’t going to do it? 

Ironic, eh?

Ideology makes for pretty thin soup when dining at the table of reality.

This looks like a grand game of chicken to me. And almost $21,000 is the weekly price of admission.

So far all you’ve talked about is dollars and sense. What about the intrigue? Where are the rumors and palace intrigue?

I dunno. But it sure would be cool to be a fly on the palace wall.

This is idle speculation. But if I had to venture a guess - I think the Mayor is under a wee bit of pressure.

That ruckus at the Sensenbrenner town hall meeting probably was an embarrassment. I was there to witness the mayhem and when it looks like you’re not in command of the situation that can be a blemish on your résumé when keeping-up appearances is so important nowadays.

Furthermore, the Governor is a Tosa boy and it would look bad if Tosa actually ratified these union contracts. So sure, I’d be willing to bet that a call from Madison has been made.

Anybody care to hazard a guess as to whether a carrot or a stick was brandished?

Keeping-up appearances is important after-all.

Even if you lose the game of chicken.

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