Friday, March 28, 2014

Wrongly Laid Off Milwaukee County Housekeepers File Civil Lawsuit

At the end of 2009, then Milwaukee County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker wanted to throw some red meat to his Tea Party base by showing he could practice austerity with the best (and worst) of them by laying off the county-employed housekeepers and contracting out those services to a private company.

The fact that said private company just so happened to be owned by Edward Aprahamian, a major contributor to Walker's campaign, was purely coincidental.

Or so Walker would have had people believe.

That lie was exposed three years later, during the Walkergate investigation and trials, when it turned out that Walker's then Deputy Chief of Staff and campaign fund raiser extraordinaire, Kelly Rindfleisch, was tapping Aprahamian for donations for her other boss, Brett Davis.

Meanwhile, the laid off county housekeepers were hoping to get called back to their jobs - or any other job in the County - before the three year callback time expired.  Their hopes were squashed first by Walker and then by the equally anti-worker Chris Abele.  The workers and the unions then went to the County Board to lobby for their jobs back.  They met with a lot of resistance, but there were enough supervisors that saw Walker's actions as being wrong.

One of the supervisors, John Weishan, introduced a resolution to hire the housekeepers back to their old jobs. Sadly, Abele lobbied even harder to stop this resolution.  When it was brought up for a vote last week, the resolution failed by one vote:
11-7 (No: Alexander, Borkowski, Jursik, Lipscomb, Schmitt, Staskunas, Taylor) on a resolution authorizing and directing the rehiring of former displaced County housekeepers to service the Courthouse facility. (Item 13) 
Abele and the conservative members of the board rejoiced at this news.  It turns out their celebration might have been premature.

Earlier this year, the release of more of the Walkergate emails files showed that Walker and his staff harbored severe anti-union attitudes.  Emails between Walker and his staff showed them to conspire to punish AFSCME workers with furloughs and layoffs.  That is, in fact, just what they did, giving AFSCME members more furlough days than workers that were members of other unions or non-represented employees.

And that is just what he did.  Most AFSCME members got 26 days of furloughs in 2010 while other county workers got 12 or only eight days of furloughs.  (It turns out that Walker did the furloughs illegally and the county workers were reimbursed for the majority of the time they missed.  To put it another way, Walker's austerity did nothing more than give county workers up to five weeks of paid time off. Funny how the corporate media never reported that.)

The failure of the board to pass the resolution and the confirmation of what any county worker could have told you - that Walker was targeting union workers, led to the only remaining course of action for the housekeepers and the union.  They filed lawsuit on Thursday:
Boyd McCamish, Executive Director of Milwaukee District Council 48, AFSCME, announced today the filing of a civil rights lawsuit against Milwaukee County over the laying off of custodial workers at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in 2009. The County laid off the workers and privatized the custodial services as part of the 2010 budget pushed through by then County Executive Scott Walker. The lawsuit alleges that Walker demanded the layoffs and privatization to punish the custodians for membership in the Union.

McCamish stated, “Recent revelations demonstrate that Scott Walker and his cronies at Milwaukee County took actions against members of the Union precisely because of their membership in the Union. The Union believes that the secret e-mails that recently came to light showed Walker and his advisors at the County routinely sought to punish workers for their membership in and association with the Union.

The laid off workers fought to be reinstated in their former positions following the election of County Executive Chris Abele, but Abele pressured the Milwaukee County Board to reject a recent proposal to reopen the Courthouse custodial positions. A resolution directing the rehiring of the laid off workers, introduced by Supervisor Weishan, was rejected in an 11-7 vote in favor of the resolution at the March 20th meeting of the Milwaukee County Board. Chris Abele lobbied supervisors to vote against the proposal citing a fiscal note compiled by the Office of the Comptroller stating that creating the custodial positions would cost an extra $630,925 per year above the current cost for private custodial services. McCamish argues that those costs are inflated and that the Milwaukee County Board should not consider the difference between poverty wages and living wages “cost savings.”

The First Amendment permits workers to associate with other workers and to become members of a union. For the County to punish workers for their rights to free association under the Constitution is an interference with their rights as citizens of the United States. We have seen that some politicians, like Scott Walker, are willing to use any illegal and unconstitutional tactics to interfere with citizens’ rights. The Union will fight any governmental interference with the right of free association.” McCamish added that the suit seeks damages in the form of back pay for the workers illegally laid off in violation of the Constitution. McCamish also said he hopes the County recognizes that what it did to the custodians needs to be remedied.

McCamish hopes that the County immediately ends the ill-conceived and illegal subcontracting and rehires the custodians who lost their jobs due to Scott Walker’s unconstitutional actions.
There are some things worth emphasizing here.

Walker illegally targeted the housekeepers for layoff to "save money." Abele refused to allow the housekeepers back and tried to justify it by saying it would cost too much because the housekeepers would get paid a living wage.

Now, if the unions are successful, not only would the county have to hire the housekeepers back, but would also have to pay them five years of back pay.  The artificially inflated numbers that Abele was kvetching about pales compared to the millions of dollars it might now cost taxpayers.

Would someone please tell me how this saves money again?  Whodathunk that austerity was so expensive?


  1. Great work!, Thanks.

  2. As a resident and tax payer , I hate to see this extra monies paid out , but what's right is right . Any ire should be directed at Walker , Abele and all the teabaggers that support them .

  3. And has the Journal-Sentinel mentioned that Scott Walker's antics are the reason this happened? OF COURSE NOT.

    They go with "unions try to sue to get money back from something that happened a few years ago." Walker's role is completely buried. The unions should remind people who was the County Exec that was illegally union-busting. Maybe remind them of Wacky-hut as well