By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state union bargaining unit representing about 1,100 engineers filed a lawsuit against the state Tuesday seeking to stop temporary layoffs.
The union argued in the lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court that the state purposefully structured the layoffs so it could recoup unemployment compensation benefits the engineers claim they are entitled to receive.
State Department of Administrative Services spokeswoman Carla Vigue said Wednesday that the lawsuit is being reviewed but she had no further comment.
The State Engineering Association is asking for injunction to stop the layoffs. It is also asking the court to force the state to collectively bargain with the union.
The lawsuit stems from Gov. Jim Doyle’s order in June requiring all state workers to take eight unpaid furlough days in this fiscal year and next to help deal with a state budget shortfall.
However, the engineers’ collective bargaining agreement with the state does not allow for furloughs. That led the Office of State Employment Relations to instead order nine consecutive days of layoffs for members of the union.
Documents sent to union members from state officials, and included with the lawsuit, say that nine days of layoffs were ordered in part to address a potential liability in unemployment compensation.
The union argued in the lawsuit that by imposing nine days of layoffs, which is longer than the governor’s order for eight days of furlough, the state will at least partially recoup what it will have to pay out for unemployment compensation by savings seen through the additional layoff day.
The most the laid off workers could get from unemployment benefits is $388 for the one full week they are off.
State employees who were furloughed didn’t qualify for unemployment compensation because they were not allowed to take five days off in a row, which would qualify them for the payment.
“These layoffs and the furloughs themselves have cost the taxpayer in inconvenience, in lost services and in lost dollars and inefficiencies far more than it was worth,” said the union’s attorney William Haus. “It’s being done for political showmanship. It’s not being done to save money or because it makes sense.”
The union said the layoffs have been partially implemented for the current fiscal year, which started July 1.
It also argues they are ill-timed, coming at the end of construction season when engineers at the Department of Transportation are busy completing projects. Laying off workers now will increase the need for the state to pay overtime, the union said in a press release.
According to the union, its engineers and technical workers are employed in more than a dozen state agencies as well as the University of Wisconsin System. Most of them work at the departments of Transportation and Natural Resources.