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A Tosa State of Mind

Alderman Dennis McBride represents Wauwatosa's 4th District. An attorney and graduate of Wauwatosa East High School, Ald. McBride strives to be an effective, thoughtful, and nonpartisan representative for his constituents and for his hometown.

Saving money for Wauwatosa

On Tuesday, April 19, 2011, the Wauwatosa Common Council will hold a special meeting to decide whether to ratify contracts that the City administration has negotiated with three unions representing City workers. 

In ordinary times, this would attract little attention.  These are not ordinary times.

Some people say the Common Council should reject the contracts to show support for Governor Walker.  Others say we should approve the contracts to support the unions.  Both sides are wrong.  Under state law, aldermen are elected on a nonpartisan basis -- not as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Greens, but as people who must represent the interests of all Wauwatosans and not promote the agenda of any political party.  Our job is to do what's right for Wauwatosa without regard to partisan politics.

In March, many people urged us to reject the proposed contracts with Local 494 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Local 305 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and Local 35 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU).  They asked us to wait until Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill” took effect on March 25, 2011. 

For that reason, on March 15, 2011, the Common Council voted not to ratify the contracts.  However, the expected cost savings did not materialize.  Later in March, the budget repair bill was challenged in court.  The judge hearing the case probably won’t rule on the case until mid-June at the earliest.  After she issues her decision, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court will rule on appeals.  It is possible that a final decision won’t be issued until autumn.


Since that time, Wauwatosa has been losing money – lots of money.


Had we ratified the three contracts on March 15, or if the budget repair bill had taken effect – the cost savings would have been the same way either way – the City would have received an additional $12,675 a week from employees represented by IBEW, AFSCME, and OPEIU in the form of the 5.8% pension contributions and 10% health insurance payments contemplated in the union contracts and budget repair bill.  Because the contracts were not ratified, the City is losing at least $12,675 a week.  Overall, it has lost more than $50,700 since March 15.  Over three months, the City’s loss will be $164,775, and over six months, $329,550.  If the impasse lasts a year, we will forego $659,100 by not ratifying the three contracts.  In the meantime, the State has announced the following:


§                     An immediate 40% cut in recycling funding for local governments – a $90,000 loss for Wauwatosa in 2011.  Thereafter, we might lose $225,000 a year in recycling aid.


§                     An 10% cut in transportation aids (for road maintenance and police patrols) for local governments in 2012.  This means another $273,000 yearly loss for Wauwatosa. 


§                     Reduced shared revenues for municipalities.  This will cost Wauwatosa approximately $414,000 each year for the next two years, or $828,000.


These are economically hard times for the City, and we need every dollar we can get to prevent drastic cuts in services (like snow plowing, police patrols, road repairs, etc.). 


An additional problem is that the budget repair bill, by protecting the collective bargaining rights of police officers and firefighters but abolishing them for other public employees, does not require police officers and firefighters to make the pension and health care contributions required of other public workers.  This makes it more important for the Common Council to put pressure on the police and fire unions -- who are about to go into contract arbitration with the City -- through the leverage of contracts with the other City unions.


If we achieve the savings described above, we should be able to use the “internal comparables” (the example of the three union contracts) of 5.8% pension contributions and 10% health insurance payments to achieve more.  If we get similar savings from the non-union supervisors, we will save $20,625 a week ($1,072,500/year) rather than the $12,675 a week ($659,100/year) described above.  If we can obtain similar savings from the police and fire unions, we can get additional savings of $18,150 a week ($944,000/year). 


After the contracts expire, the provisions in the budget repair bill will take effect anyway because the non-police/fire unions will lose virtually all of their collective bargaining power.  In the meantime, if we ratify the union contracts and achieve the expected savings with the non-union supervisors and the police and fire unions, our total savings will be about $2 million a year. 


For this reason, I will vote to ratify the union contracts on Tuesday, April 19.  To do otherwise would be to damage the City’s ability to continue to provide the services that Wauwatosans expect.

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