Nurses Union Sues Milwaukee County

     MILWAUKEE (CN) – Milwaukee County illegally reduced pensions for members of a nurses union, the union claims in a class action in Milwaukee County Court.



     The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5001 AFT AFL-CIO sued Milwaukee County and its Pension Board, fighting the law the county passed in July, which is to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
     The ordinance reduced the years of service multiplier used to calculate pensions from 2 percent to 1.6 percent.
     The Milwaukee County Employees’ Retirement System was established in 1938 to provide county workers with retirement, disability and death benefits.
     Before the new law was enacted, nurses union members who were hired before 1982 were entitled to pensions in “an amount equal to two (2) percent of his final average salary multiplied by the number of his years of services as a collective bargaining member.”
     Nurses hired after 1982 originally were eligible to only receive a 1.5 percent multiplier, but this was changed in 2001 to give all union employees a 2 percent multiplier regardless of start date.
     On July 28 this year, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors changed the rules to say: “A member shall receive an amount equal to one and six-tenths (1.6) percent of his final average salary multiplied by the number of his years of service, for service as a member represented by the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals … rendered on or after January 1, 2012.”
     The new ordinance applies to union employees and new hires.
     In its complaint, the union says that its collective bargaining agreement, issued on Aug. 23, contained changed pension benefits, without their consent.
     The changed agreement for 2012 states: “For employee who became members of the employees retirement system after January 1, 1971, all pension service credit earned on and after January 1, 2012, shall be credited in an amount equal to 1.6 percent of the member’s final average salary, who at the time the service credit is earned, is covered by the terms of the agreement.”
     The union says the county must receive individual consents to make the change because union members have individual benefit contracts. Through the contracts, the union members “have vested rights in the highest level of retirement benefits contractually established at any time during the course of active County service,” according to the complaint. “Those rights may not be diminished or impaired by subsequent legislation or by any other means without the individual members’ consent, even in collective bargaining with the Union.”
     The union represents a class of registered nurses, occupational therapists, music therapists, forensic chemists and other health care professionals employed by Milwaukee County. Suzanne Stoker, an occupational therapist employed since 1982 is the lead plaintiff.
     They seek damages for breach of the collective bargaining agreement and violation of the Wisconsin Constitution. They seek a declaration that the new ordinance and 2012 collective bargaining agreement are invalid, and an injunction preventing the decreased pension benefits.
     They are represented by Jeffrey Sweetland with Hawks Quindel.

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