Tosa labor issues tabled until Madison takes action

Feb. 16, 2011

Wauwatosa officials, waiting to see what transpires in Madison, where legislators are considering proposed changes to union benefits for state employees, put on hold Tuesday a fire-union contract and a move to require nonrepresented city employees to pay more toward health-insurance premiums

Mayor Jill Didier moved to hold off action on the two items on the Common Council meeting agenda, even though the Employee Relations Committee recommended approving the union contract and increased premium share. Alderman Peter Donegan, committee chairman, agreed with the delay but asked that these issues be discussed in coming weeks at a time when the majority of the council could attend.

"This is very significant legislation to us and our future," Donegan said.

Gov. Scott Walker is pushing for most public workers to pay half their pension costs, about 6 percent, as well as 12 percent of the health care costs. Walker's proposal would limit unions to only bargaining over wages and not benefits or other work rules. Only the police, firefighter and state troopers unions could continue to collectively bargain for benefits. Calling the legislation "a budget repair bill," the governor has said the changes would bring a $300 million savings in two years.

Donegan suggested a Committee of the Whole session or an Employee Relations Committee meeting when no other committees are in session. Common practice is to hold several committee meetings simultaneously with aldermen split among different rooms.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt added that he'd like to see the discussion recorded and broadcast for residents to watch. Typically Employee Relations is held in the back of the council chambers where television production equipment is not available.

Donegan said he wasn't as concerned with holding off action on changes to the nonrepresented employees because he didn't feel the pending legislation had as much impact. However, many people have concerns about making sure represented and nonrepresented employees have equal benefits, so it makes sense to wait on both issues, he said.

Didier said the path of requiring more contributions from employees for their benefits was the right one, but more discussion couldn't hurt.

As for increasing the nonrepresented employees' health insurance payment contributions, Alderman Dennis McBride cast the lone vote against delaying action.

The council voted 14-2 to postpone decisions on the fire union contract. Aldermen Michael Walsh and Jason Wilke voted in opposition. Walsh said he was confident that City Administrator James Archambo and Human Resources Director Beth Aldana had done a good job negotiating for the city so he didn't want to put off moving ahead.


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