Wisconsin Labor Wars Continue in Court
MILWAUKEE (CN) - In another shot in Wisconsin's labor wars, 25 janitors at the Milwaukee County Courthouse claim in court that the county fired and blacklisted them because of their union affiliation, when now-Gov. Scott Walker was the county executive.
The Milwaukee District Council of AFSCME, AFL-CIO, sued Milwaukee County in Federal Court.
The union claims that after the janitors were laid off in 2009 Milwaukee County "refused to recall or rehire them or to provide them with positive references or by providing them with false references (i.e. 'blacklisting' them) all because of their association with District Council 48, in violation of their federal constitutional rights to free association under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."
Milwaukee County was "acting on the recommendations of then Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and his subordinates," when it privatized its custodial services, the union says. Walker now is governor, and made national news by ramming anti-union legislation through the Legislature. The law, passed as a budget act, severely limited public workers' union rights, and spurred copycat legislation across the country.
After the union workers were laid off in Milwaukee, the 2010 contract was awarded to MidAmerican Building Services, whose owner, Edward M. Aprahamian, Jr., has made donations to Walker's campaigns for both county executive and governor, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The union claims that "After December 10, 2010, Milwaukee County as a matter of policy and custom continued to refuse to provide references for or provided false information regarding the members of District Council 48 who sought employment with persons other than Milwaukee County, thereby blacklisting them from possible employment with persons other than Milwaukee County."
The janitors sought reinstatement via a proposal to the Milwaukee County Board, which rejected the proposal to reopen the custodial jobs by 11-7 vote on March 20.
Boyd McCamish, Executive Director of Milwaukee District Council 48, AFSCME, said in a statement: "Recent revelations demonstrate that Scott Walker and his cronies at Milwaukee County took actions against members of the union precisely because of their membership in the union. The union believes that the secret e-mails that recently came to light showed Walker and his advisors at the county routinely sought to punish workers for their membership in and association with the union."
McCamish referred to emails uncovered in an investigation seeking to determine whether members of Walker's staff used a secret email system to coordinate his gubernatorial campaign while Walker was Milwaukee County executive.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, one email from Walker's then-chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, stated about District 48: "We are never going to get DC48, so I would furlough the hell out of them. Find the most senior members and burn them a new one!"
McCamish added in his statement: "We have seen that some politicians, like Scott Walker, are willing to use any illegal and unconstitutional tactics to interfere with citizens' rights. The union will fight any governmental interference with the right of free association."
The union says its members have been denied their right to free association when Milwaukee County "acted intentionally and with callous disregard of clearly established constitutional rights."
AFSCME seeks damages for lost salary, lost benefits, lost raises, diminished earnings capacity, lost career and business opportunities, litigation expenses and other compensatory damages. It is represented by Mark Sweet with Sweet and Associates.