Wisconsin Jailers Hold Onto Full Union Rights

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin’s new restrictions on the bargaining rights of public employees do not apply to county jailers, a state appeals court ruled.
     Douglas County initiated the dispute by claiming that local jailers were among the municipal employees whose collective bargaining were curbed substantially by amendments to the Municipal Employments Relations Act that the Wisconsin Legislature passed in 2011.
     Though Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill introduced new restrictions on public-sector union activity, it included an exception for “public safety employees.”
     This exception allows public safety employees to retain bargaining rights over wages, compensation, hours, and conditions of employment, while “general municipal employees” may bargain only over total base wages.
     Even as to wages, however, general municipal employees have inferior rights as compared with public safety employees, according to the ruling.
     Ultimately, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) found that the 36 jail workers were general municipal employees ineligible, ineligible for full union rights, because they do not all have arrest powers necessary to qualify as deputy sheriffs.
     The commission said Douglas County did not have a duty to bargain Local 441A, Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the union that represents county jailers, over anything but total base wages.
     A Dane County judge reversed in October 2012, however, concluding that the jailers are “deputy sheriffs,” and thus “public safety employees,” under Section 40.02(48)(b)3 of state law.
     As such, they retain the bargaining rights they had prior to 2011.
     A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday.
     The 16-page decision notes that Section 40.02 defines a deputy sheriff as “any … employee of a sheriff’s office … except one whose principal duties are those of a telephone operator, clerk, stenographer, machinist or mechanic and whose functions do not clearly fall within the scope of active law enforcement even though such an employee is subject to occasional call, or is occasionally called upon, to perform duties within the scope of active law enforcement.”
     “It is undisputed, so far as we can tell, that the jailers fit the first sentence of the definition of ‘deputy sheriff’ contained in that statute,” Presiding Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the appellate panel.
     “The jailers are employed by the sheriff’s office, and none have principal duties as a telephone operator, clerk, stenographer, machinist, or mechanic,” he added.
     Wisconsin law also stipulates that the term deputy sheriff “includes any person regularly employed and qualifying as a deputy sheriff … even if temporarily assigned to other duties,” according to the ruling.
     The initial reversal from Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess noted that the very nature of the jailers’ classification as protective occupation participants, which requires the active involvement in law enforcement, meets the statutory definition of deputy sheriffs.
     Judge Niess also held that the law does not require a deputy sheriff be sworn or certified by the Law Enforcement Standards Board.
     Because the Douglas County decision overturned the decision of a statewide agency, it now applies to every county in the state.
     The Wisconsin Professional Police Association applauded the “landmark ruling,” noting that it “was the first labor organization in the state to challenge county employers on this issue.”
     In the wake of Wisconsin’s 2011 amendments, counties across the state have been changing jail employees’ job classifications to take away their ability to remain in public safety labor unions that can bargain freely over pay and working conditions.
     The WPPA said the amended laws “eviscerated the rights of most public employees to bargain over wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

%d bloggers like this: