But first, for those that haven't been following the goings on in Milwaukee County under the Walker regime, some background. And for those that have been following, please consider it a refresher.
refused to sit down and negotiate said concessions with the unions.
Reports at the time calculated that Walker was squandering anywhere from a third to half a million dollars a month due to unseen savings because of his posturing.
In other words, he constructed his own artificial crisis and now was running around crying that the sky was falling.
At midyear, Walker said that the only way to resolve the supposed fiscal crisis was to put all county workers on an indefinite five-hour a week work reduction.
As one might imagine, the unions protested this and took it to arbitration, claiming Walker violated good faith bargaining and that this stunt was a violation of the contract.
The arbitrator heard the case and ruled in favor of the unions and then some. During the hearing it came out that Walker exceeded his authority in trying to impose an indefinite reduction of pay, that he acted illegally when he made this unilateral decision, and that it was indeed in violation of previous arbitration decisions which limited the reduced work time by 45 hours.
The real kicker was when it was also revealed that Walker was lying through his teeth when he claimed there was a $15 million deficit. His own fiscal guy, Steve Kreklow, said that it was $5 million and the County Auditor, Jerome Heer, found it to be under a million dollars. Neither of those numbers would qualify as a crisis in a budget of more than $1.5 billion.
Unthwarted, Walker took the ruling to circuit court, where a Republican judge ruled in his favor and voided the finding of the arbitrator. The union responded by appealing this ruling. In a ruling written by the Honorable Ralph Adam Fine, the appellate court ruled that according to the law, the arbitrator's decision was final unless fraud could be proven and thereby voided the lower court's ruling.
During all of these court hearings, Walker devised his 2010 budget and guess what, did the same illegal thing. This time, instead of shortened work weeks, he decided to just implement full day furloughs.
And not only did he follow the same illegal actions, he doubled down by implementing them illegally. Besides just exceeding the allowed amount of time, he treated various employees differently. He gave deputies eight days of furlough, some other workers like the staff at the mental health complex 12 days and others, such as myself, a full 26 days. Sometimes, people in the same Local were getting the different treatment.
(Ironically, the money that Walker claimed would be saved by this illegal action was eaten up by having to pay other workers overtime to make up for the loss of work hours. Some workers were able to actually come ahead on this deal, making more money than they lost due to the overtime and still getting days off.)
So the unions took their complaint to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC), and well, as I told it at the time:
Walker and the County Board continued to pass budgets that presumed these savings despite the fact these concessions were never negotiated. Milwaukee County First warned at the time that the budgets were illegal and that the tax payers would be on the hook for them.
The unions would in turn file complaints with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). The county asked WERC to drop the complaints saying that it belonged in arbitration. The unions agreed and dropped the complaints. However, Walker then backstabbed the unions by refusing to go to arbitration.
So the unions, with no other alternative, went back to WERC and refiled their complaint.
Last Friday, WERC handed out there ruling regarding the complaint about furloughs and about whether the county was participating in bad faith bargaining.
In a nutshell, the furloughs were done illegally and the county was found to be guilty of bad faith bargaining.
WERC ruled that the county had to pay the workers back pay for all the furlough time in excess of the 45 hours allowed through arbitration. Not only did they have to pay it back, but WERC also imposed a penalty of 12% interest, compounded daily, for every day until they do pay it back.
And that is where the problem comes in. The ruling means that the county owes the workers millions in back pay. With the interest figured in, it's probably about $5 or $6 million by now, maybe even higher.
But thanks to Walker's dishonest budgeting as county executive and his slashing funding to the county as governor, Milwaukee County just doesn't have the money to pay this debt.
Over a year ago, I had written something that seems rather prophetic today, suggesting a way for current Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the Milwaukee County Board could meet its obligation without sticking it to the taxpayers or endangering our most vulnerable citizens by cutting services even further:
This means that the original arbitration is indeed to be held up. This could the cost the County millions of dollars in back pay for excessive furloughs given to county workers.
Because the County cannot afford such a large payout, it is possible that this will instead weaken the County’s position in contract negotiations, with the unions holding it as a bargaining chip. This, of course, could end up costing the tax payers dearly.
Using the Mercer trial as a precedent, where Mercer had to pay the county for giving bad advice regarding the pension scandal, Scott Walker’s campaign should have to pay the county back for the damages it occurred directly due to Walker’s campaign stunt. As further evidence that this was nothing more than a political stunt, Walker’s campaign regularly touted his use of these furlough days to gain the supposed surplus for that year.The Mercer decision was one where the county sued Mercer for giving bad advice regarding Tom Ament's pension scandal. Worth noting is the fact that Walker, who has spent years badmouthing his predecessor and the County Board for "their greed," changed his tune for this and blamed everything on this company, thereby, in effect, declaring his predecessor and the board innocent. (Of course, like all things Walker, even this has a scandal involved with it.)
When I wrote the above passage, I didn't really think that the county would proceed with suing Walker and/or his campaign. After all, even though Walker's actions were obviously a campaign stunt, there was no proof of it.
Cory Liebmann, one of the most knowledgeable people in all things Walker, put up a post regarding some of Walker's emails from 2009. Most notable of these was this one which Liebmann accurately describes (emphasis his):
An email that appears to be from Cynthia Archer to Walker at his campaign email address (and copying other staff...including Walker campaign consultant RJ Johnson). In that email she spells out their various "options" after a greatly anticipated arbitration hearing. It looks like Walker then takes that Archer email and forwards it from his campaign account to his county account.You can see the actual email (starting on page 5) in a Scribd format, again thanks to Liebmann.
In summary, Walker imposed these excessive furlough days despite having a ruling deeming them illegal and despite refusing to negotiate with the unions creating an artificially constructed fiscal emergency. And Walker did these things knowingly and what is obvious from the above email, as I had correctly stated all that time ago, he did so not for the purposes of saving the county taxpayers any money nor to fix any fiscal crisis, but he did this only to enhance his image as a candidate for governor. This is shown in the concerns expressed by Archer in her email and the fact that it was sent to his campaign email and included a campaign consultant.
I once again urge County Executive Abele and the County Board to look into this and consider trying to recoup the losses Walker forced onto Walker for illegal purposes. They could do so by suing Walker and the Friends of Scott Walker, which has ample funds to pay the bill.
Granted, they probably couldn't get everything they owe the workers, due to the interest accrued as they stalled paying what they were ordered to pay, but it would still be a large chunk of it. It would be worth at least looking into.