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Wauwatosa police call for mediation of contract with city

Repair bill complicates city's employment issues

March 24, 2011

Contract negotiations between the city and the Wauwatosa Peace Officer Association have reached an impasse, causing the union to apply for mediation.

Police union President Luke Vetter declined to go into too many specifics about the closed-door bargaining sessions that have occurred since October, but did say his group has offered to pay a larger portion of its health care costs and to forgo a pay raise in the first year of the contract.

"We have negotiated in good faith with the city in the past and agreed to concessions over the last two contracts," Vetter said. "We continued that this negotiation session."

But the officers believed the compensation concessions the city was looking for were "unreasonable," he added.

"Our officers have a dangerous and difficult job," he said. "They've broken bones, got shot, undergone surgeries, worked holidays, nights and 12-hour shifts or more for the citizens of Wauwatosa on a regular basis. They deserve better than what was offered to them."

Seeking compromise

Beth Aldana, human resources director for the city, said she was made aware of the union's intent to file for mediation with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission after the last bargaining session.

Administrators could have asked to continue negotiating, but chose not to. The matter, therefore, will move to mediation in April.

An independent mediator will try to broker a deal by finding compromises for the issues in dispute. A tentative agreement would then go back to the Common Council and police union for ratification.

If mediation fails, the contract goes to an arbitrator who would look at both sides' proposals and pick one in its entirety.

The fire union could be the next in line for mediation since the Common Council denied a proposed contract March 15 and sent administrators back to the bargaining table.

Disparity a concern

Police and fire are two public employee union groups left out of Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill, which eliminates most unions' ability to collectively bargain on any issue besides base wages.

Not only does that create disparity among employee groups, it also causes problems within the Police and Fire departments, officials have said. Nonrepresented supervisors would pay 5.8 percent of their salaries into the state pension plan under the repair bill, while their union counterparts would pay nothing - unless terms are negotiated in the next contract.

"We're going to have supervisors making less than the employees they supervise," Police Chief Barry Weber told the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission on March 16. "You can't pick and choose who gets what, it creates disparity within an organization."

That disparity could dissuade an officer from leaving the security of the union and joining management. Some upper-ranking police personnel are rethinking their decisions as well, Weber said.

A nonrepresented police employee cannot bump someone to get their prior union job back, Aldana said. The only position to move to would be an entry-level patrol job, if a vacancy exists. That means supervisors couldn't return to jobs like detective, which are higher-ranking but still represented by the union.

It is possible that the union could negotiate a different approach for employees who want to bump down, she said.

In the Fire Department, which is starting to hear similar rumblings of interest in rejoining the union, has language in its contract that a firefighter can return to his previous post within a year of a position change, Assistant Chief Michael Anton said.

Other unions need new rules

As for the employee groups that would no longer be able to bargain on benefits and workplace issues, administrators will have to go through every aspect of prior contracts and decide whether to continue business as usual or make changes. Then, either an administrative or departmental policy will be created or the issue will go to the Common Council for action, City Administrator James Archambo said.

Right now, the city is waiting to see how a judge rules following a temporary injunction on the repair bill. Payroll was supposed to start withdrawing the mandatory pension contribution for the next pay period. Recertification votes on whether to continue union organization in affected unions likely will be put off as well.

"We can't fully react until it finally becomes a law," he said.

The city stands to save about $750,000 in pension contributions for the municipal clerk, public works and dispatchers unions and nonrepresented employees. But that could be reduced as debate occurs at the state level suggesting nonrepresented police and fire employees join the exempted group.

"That would not be helpful from our city's standpoint," he said. "It addresses the small issue of compression within a department, but we also have to deal with a bigger budgetary problem."

State aid would fall

Meanwhile, numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show state shared revenue will decline $414,000, which is by about half, for Wauwatosa under Walker's biennial budget. That money gets spread around to fill holes in the city operating budget. State transportation aid used for roadway maintenance and police patrol will take a 15 percent, or $273,000, hit.

The city also stands to lose $225,000 in recycling grants and may have to reduce its levy limit by $250,000 due to old debt. Costs could rise because of anticipated mandates or project-sharing that hasn't been revealed yet in the biennial budget, city officials warn.

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