By Jeff Richter, AFT Local 4999
When Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 was signed into law last year, it set up almost impossible criteria for public employee unions to negotiate with the state. Yet, when unions manage to jump through all the hoops, the state still refuses to sit down and negotiate.
AFT Local 4999 (a.k.a. Professional Employees in Research, Statistics, & Analysis or PERSA) is the smallest state employee union with a bargaining unit of about 60 individuals. Little PERSA managed the almost impossible feat and got recertified under the arcane rules imposed by Act 10.
Under Act 10, union members are required to vote every year in order to maintain their union as their certified bargaining agent. To do so, a majority of bargaining unit members, versus only those who choose to vote, have to vote in favor of the union. This is an unprecedented requirement in elections and one which few politicians, including Scott Walker, would ever pass. In addition, unions have to pay the state to hold their annual recertification election. It is clear the intent of these provisions was to prevent workers from ever being able to negotiate with the state.
And even then, if a union manages to recertify, they can only negotiate over wages and then only up to a cap set at the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Just a couple months earlier 70 percent of the PERSA bargaining unit were card-carrying members of the union and were already voluntarily paying dues through payroll deduction. So the state was fully aware that these folks had already voted with their wallets, so to speak, for representation by their union. So it was no surprise that PERSA managed to get recertified last fall with 74 percent voting and not one dissenting vote cast: it was unanimous support for the union!
PERSA then waited months for the state’s Office of Employment Relations (OSER) to honor its part of the recertification by setting a date for bargaining. Eventually the union hand-delivered a written request to OSER to set bargaining dates. So far OSER has not responded to PERSA’s request, nor even sent an acknowledgement of receipt of the request.
Under Act 10 the state forced PERSA and other unions into a public employee union dog and pony show with the offer of relatively puny rewards. And after PERSA managed to jump through all the state’s hoops, the state walked away without giving out those rewards.
Other state employee unions that managed to recertify were told by OSER that it can’t come to the table because the rules defining the CPI ceiling for our raises are stalled on Walker’s desk. So why is OSER willing to wait for months for a CPI number to take to the bargaining table? It’s a joke. And the joke is on us because OSER will, most likely, ignore the CPI number and eventually arrive at the bargaining table to offer PERSA a pay increase of zero anyway.
Some of the larger state employee unions that also managed to recertify got fed up after OSER ignored their repeated requests to bargain and filed unfair labor practice charges against the state. Under Act 10, these unions already had to bear the burden of unreasonable poll taxes and other costs to hold their recertification votes and now their treasuries are being taxed again to seek legal redress for OSER’s refusal to do its job.
On March 21, PERSA members joined in solidarity with members of other state employee unions in front of the Department of Administration building on East Wilson Street in Madison to protest OSER’s shameful inaction and to demand that they set bargaining dates.
–Jeff Richter is President of PERSA and sits on the AFT-Wisconsin Executive Board.