Executive Director’s Message

By James L. Palmer, II

Comments and letters can be sent to Executive Director Jim Palmer at WPPA
340 Coyier Lane, Madison, WI 53713, or e-mail palmer@wppa.com.

On a prefatory note, I want to express my gratitude for the efforts of Tom Bahr, who recently retired from the WPPA as our executive director, and who unquestionably worked harder than more people will ever fully realize. President LeCaptain’s letter to the members, which has been reprinted on page 4 of this issue, is a testament to Tom’s tenure as the WPPA executive director. If you haven’t taken the time yet to read it, please do.

I also want to thank the WPPA Board of Directors for their confidence in naming me the new executive director. Since joining the WPPA in 2003, I have developed a genuine admiration and respect for the challenges confronting our members as they serve their communities. I am committed to strengthening this organization, growing its membership, and working to protect and promote the services and rights you deserve.

Police Win the Right to Arbitrate Their Discipline

On October 26, 2007, Governor Jim Doyle signed the 2007-2009 state budget into law. The budget that was sent to his desk allowed a change in the disciplinary law for fire fighters, but not police officers. At the WPPA’s request, Governor Doyle was able to extend these changes to municipal police officers through his partial-veto authority, a move contrary to the zealous opposition of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, and the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.

Prior to the enactment of the budget, the police discipline law was inherently biased. A police chief would make a disciplinary recommendation to the police and fire commission (PFC), which is the same group of men and women that hired the chief. This system invites a PFC to rubberstamp the recommendations of its chief to avoid looking foolish for overturning the actions of the individual it hired. This doesn’t mean that chiefs or PFCs are bad, but a system which allows for such a result certainly is. Making matters worse, municipal police officers and fire fighters were the only local public employees who were denied the right to bargain a disciplinary arbitration process into their contracts. Thanks to Governor Doyle, this is no longer true.

The law now allows a police union and a local government employer to bargain an arbitration process into their contracts as an alternative to the current statutory process requiring disciplinary matters to go before a PFC. The new law even goes so far as to bar a local government employer from prohibiting arbitration. Police unions can now bargain to arbitrate their discipline and the employer cannot deny the local association that right.

This issue has been a WPPA priority for more than 20 years, and these changes in the bargaining law demonstrate how far the WPPA has come in fighting for its members at the State Capitol. This budget included the fewest number of partial vetoes made by a governor in the past 35 years, and that the WPPA secured one of them is a fantastic victory for this organization and its members.

Update on Military Service Credits Bill

Under current law, employees participating in the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) who began their public employment after serving in the military do not receive WRS credit for their military service if it occurred after 1974. Assembly Bill 43 and Senate Bill 19 would eliminate the arbitrary 1974 limitation and credit military service that occurs at any time. This legislation would only apply to public employees who terminate their WRS-covered employment after the bill becomes law.

Both AB 43 and SB 19 have been approved by committees in their respective houses, and have been referred to the Joint Survey Committee on Wisconsin Retirement Systems. Before that committee can consider the bill, an actuarial study must be completed to assess the costs the measure would create for the WRS. Having this information will help the WPPA, as the only law enforcement group actively lobbying for this measure, to continue to build momentum for it as it moves through the legislative process.

While this legislation is unlikely to be passed into law in 2008, I am pleased to report that the final budget included the funding necessary for this actuarial study, and that we are already working with legislators to see that this study begin as soon as possible.

Other Collective Bargaining Issues

Thanks in part to the WPPA’s lobbying efforts, the final budget signed into law last October did not include a number of anti-public employee provisions introduced by the Republican-controlled State Assembly. Among the provisions eliminated from the budget were the following:

  • A prohibition that any final contract offer submitted to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) for interest arbitration cannot require the employer to pay more for employee compensation and benefits than that provided by any applicable property tax freeze.
  • A requirement that every new town, village, city, and county employee must pay the first 3 percent of their earnings toward their pension. Current law permits the employer and employees to negotiate for the employer to pay all or part of the employee-required contributions. These benefits have historically been bargained at the local level, and the Assembly budget would have eliminated the ability to negotiate these arrangements in the future.

Other WPPA News

In other news, I am pleased to welcome some new faces to the WPPA. First, Roger Palek joined our legal staff in January. Most recently employed by the law firm of Lawton & Cates, Roger served the Wisconsin Education Association Council-Fox Valley as its executive director. In addition to having a great deal of labor and employment law experience, Roger is licensed to practice law in both Wisconsin and Michigan. With his impressive résumé, he will undoubtedly be a valuable addition to our legal staff.

Second, WPPA Business Agent Joseph Durkin has been promoted into a new position, and will now serve as our Director of Field Services. Joe worked as a law enforcement officer for the Madison Police Department from 1980 until 2005, when he became a business agent for the WPPA. With an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin and many years of bargaining experience as a union leader, Joe will be directly responsible for working to maintain and improve how we represent our members in the workplace.

Third, we have recently retained the expertise of Dick Terry, who, until his retirement last year from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, served as that group’s Director of Affiliate Relations. Dick will work on grievance and interest arbitrations, in addition to some organization-wide strategic planning matters.

Lastly, Julie Neeley has succeeded Judy Urso as the WPPA office manager. Judy, who had served the WPPA since 1986, retired in December. Whether it was coordinating the organization’s office staff, planning and staffing our annual convention, or editing our magazine, Judy’s many years of dedicated service cannot possibly be appreciated enough. Julie Neeley has been a member of our office staff since 1993. Korrin Wareham, currently a receptionist in our office, will assume new duties and responsibilities as well. Many of the services we provide to our members rely on the support of Judy, Julie, and Korrin, and they are working closely together to ensure the smooth operation of our front office.

I hope you all had a wonderful and safe holiday season. As always, stay safe, stay informed, and stay in touch.

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