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Union rep accuses state of double-dipping

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//December 20, 2013//

Union rep accuses state of double-dipping

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//December 20, 2013//

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By Dan Shaw
[email protected]

Building trades workers employed by the state might be paying twice for pension benefits, a union representative is contending, because of the 2011 law that eliminated the bulk of their collective bargaining rights.

State employees in the building trades have not received a raise since 2009, the last year in which most of them worked under a contract that paid them 82.8 percent of the prevailing wage for their particular trades. They agreed to not receive the full wage amount, said David Branson, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin, so the state could put the savings toward their employee benefits.

Now, on top of that, the 2011 collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10, forces them to contribute toward those same benefits a percentage of their take-home pay, he said.

“They are contributing more when money was already being taken out for the pension,” Branson said. “Members are questioning it. Why are they getting another contribution taken out?”

According to an email attributed to Stephanie Marquis, communications director of the state Department of Administration, 6.65 percent of trades employees’ gross wages go to retirement contributions.

Branson took his concerns to lawmakers Thursday at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, which has a say on contracts for state workers. The members of the committee then agreed to give employees in the building trades union and four other unions a 1 percent raise. The pay boost still requires approval from the Legislature to take effect.

Branson said Friday the raise percentage does not take into account the 2008-09 reduction of building trades workers’ pay below prevailing wage. He called on lawmakers and the Office of State Employment Relations, the state’s human resources department, to study the situation and recommend a fair solution.

Justin Cleveland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Vos had no comment on the matter. Vos is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations.

Branson said about 420 state employees are members of the building trades’ collective bargaining unit. Among their ranks are electricians, steamfitters, heat and frost insulators, painters and carpenters.

Most of them, he said, perform maintenance at University of Wisconsin campuses or for agencies such as the departments of Corrections and Transportation.

Under Act 10, only unions that win annual recertification elections are allowed to continue bargaining with the state, and even then they can talk only about wage increases tied to the rate of inflation.

Unions that seek recertification have a steep hurdle to overcome: They must win votes from at least 51 percent of all of their members, not just those who cast ballots.

The Wisconsin State Building Trades unit was recertified in an election that concluded Nov. 21. Of the 421 members who could then vote, 289 cast ballots in favor of the union, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Branson said Friday he does not have a specific recommendation for ensuring that state building trades workers pay the same for benefits as other state employees. And, in light of the unswerving support most of the Republicans who control the Legislature show for Act 10, he said, he has little reason to believe anything he would suggest would be heeded.

“JCOER has approved the 1 percent increase,” Branson said. “And that’s all they are going to get.”


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