Wauwatosa to reconsider union contracts

April 15, 2011

Wauwatosa Common Council will take a new vote Tuesday on whether to ratify contracts with three employee unions. The move could reverse the city government's March decision to deny contracts and look to savings from Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget-repair bill.

A special meeting has been called for 6:30 p.m. at the request of five aldermen who signed a petition this week, Mayor Jill Didier said.

"They can force me to call a special meeting of the council," she said, explaining that a clause in the city's code allows for such action. "By ordinance I have to comply."

Those aldermen in order of the signatures on the petition are Linda Nikcevich, Don Birschel, Jeff Roznowski, Dennis McBride and Bobby Pantuso.

A month ago, the council voted not to ratify tentative agreements with the public works, dispatcher, clerical and fire unions. A crowd of about 100 people turned out, most urging city officials to wait until Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget-repair bill became law. Since then a Dane County judge has put a restraining order barring the law from being implemented.

With no collective bargaining agreements in place, the city is losing money each pay period, Birschel said. He signed the petition that triggered the meeting, but he also circulated an earlier version that didn't force a meeting because of some paperwork errors.

Pantuso also said the motivation to sign the petition was purely financial.

"To be clear I am only interested in this because it will save the taxpayers money," he said.

Calls have been placed to City Hall to determine how much money the city has lost with no collective bargaining agreements of budget-repair bill in effect.

If the law had taken effect as planned, employees other than those in police and fire unions would have started contributing to their pensions April 1.

The people who attended the meeting had asked the council to wait a couple of weeks for the bill to go into effect.

"We waited but now no one knows when a decision is going to be made (by the judicial system)," Birschel said.

At the time, he was one of several aldermen who voiced apprehension because the savings negotiated by city administrators and union representatives could have been greater than what would be realized under the bill. Still, the outspoken and united crowd - as well as hundreds of calls and emails - convinced most of the council to deny the contracts in March.

Tentative agreements called for no increase in wages for 2011 and a slight increase in health care contributions. The repair bill allows an increase equal to the Consumer Price Index, about 1.5 percent this year and the city doesn't participate in the state health plan, so the bill wouldn't have offered any insurance premium savings.

Didier called it "bad policy" to revisit an issue that was so thoroughly discussed, especially when less than a third of the council's 16 members are requesting the reconsideration.


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