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City Seeks Wholesale Changes in Absence of Collective Bargaining

Committee hears and passes a raft of recommendations to put union and non-union workers on par.

On June 29, the controversial state budget repair bill went into effect, and on July 1, the state budget bill itself went into effect as well.

It did not take long for the City of Wauwatosa to react. Tuesday night, the Employee Relations Committee addressed a host of items that will change the way Wauwatosa compensates its employees in the absence of most collective bargaining rights.

On the advice of city staff, the committee recommended:

  • The repeal of three ordinances that set health insurance contribution rates for police and fire supervisors, non-represented employees and non-represented retirees;
  • Increasing health insurance premiums for certain "non-protective active employees once retired" — former union workers who officially retired under union plans but then continued or returned to employment without union representation;
  • Imposing the same health insurance payments on members of three city unions as are paid by non-union workers;
  • Eliminating all but one health care plan for all city employees.

Within the details of those changes were others, principally affecting police and fire supervisors. The state budget bill exempts public safety supervisors from contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System, the same as rank and file officers and firefighters.

But the state also now requires police and fire supervisors to be aligned with rank and file on health care premiums under the state's health care plan — and Wauwatosa is not part of that plan.

Nevertheless, Tosa administrators are recommending that under its own independent health care plan, police and fire supervisors should pay the same rate as officers and firefighters to avoid "compression" — the situation in which supervisors could end up with take-home pay close to, equal to or less than those they are supervising.

Repeal, repeal, repeal

Repealing a clutch of city ordinances all at once is usually cause for a raised eyebrow, but the legal staff insisted that in this instance, removing city ordinances that set health insurance rates for non-represented staff is mainly a matter of convenience.

Now that nobody other than police officers and firefighters are represented in bargaining health care rates, it doesn't make sense to have laws setting those rates for non-bargainers.

"It's relevant now because we'll have many more employees attached to the plan," said Beth Aldana of the city attorney's office. "The ordinances were a repository of information for non-represented employees, and we think we can now better replace that with an employee handbook."

Doing away with the ordinances also streamlines changes, Aldana said. Reducing the health payment rates to being set by Common Council resolution also reduces the time it takes to institute a change from a minimum of four weeks to just two weeks.

That proposal was passed unanimously and will advance to the Common Council.

Aldana promised that many more ordinance repeals would be forthcoming from the administration because without collective bargaining, the city no longer needed to set conditions by law for those who didn't have union contracts.

Higher health care costs

Also, without any debate at all — the matter had been discussed with unions since the budget repair bill was first proposed — health insurance premiums for union workers were recommended to be increased from 3 percent to 10 percent.

The proposal noted that the change could be made by the city unilaterally to align with all non-union employees. The change is expected to save the city $162,099 a year, and it also passed unanimously.

All for one, one plan for all

The proposal to do away with all but one health care plan for city employees institutes a co-pay before deductibles and reduces co-insurance after deductibles, exposing families to about $600 more per year in the event of need.

"Our revenue is frozen, and this freezes expenditures as well," said City Administrator Jim Archambo.

33 years of savings

Finally, a group of employees who were union-represented, then retired but continued or returned to city employment were subject to a complex tier system of pension benefit changes.

  • Those with 20-plus years service were grandfathered with the city paying 110 percent of the previous year's premium;
  • Those with less than 20 years but hired before Jan. 1, 2008 will pay 5 percent of the premium after retirement; and
  • Those hired on or after Jan. 1, 2008, will receive the city's new maximum 50 percent contribution.

The savings to the city through that measure are projected at $726,000 over the next 33 years, by which time all employees hired before Jan. 1, 2008, are expected to have retired.

Michael Koerner July 15, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Great job Wauwatosa! I'm so proud to live in a city where they understand that public workers need to sacrifice just as much as its citizens.
John July 15, 2011 at 01:36 PM
We're all in this boat together as any rational person knows. It's going to hurt us all in different ways but the short-term sacrifices will eventually give-way to the long-term benefits...especially to the future generations. They'll still be in Democratic debt, but at least they won't have to declare Bankruptcy the moment they are conceived!

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