Tom Barrett’s call to expand Act 10 offensive

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which has strongly supported Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s campaigns for office in the past, is disappointed by the mayor’s comments in response to the rising tide of violence in the city.

In recent weeks, Barrett has staked out the untenable position that expanding the collective-bargaining restrictions in Act 10 to police officers and firefighters would somehow aid him in addressing what appears to be a growing epidemic. Regrettably, his comments ignore what is actually occurring in public safety employee contracts throughout the state. And he overlooks the key distinction between police officers and firefighters and other public employees whose duties do not confront them with the same daily threat to their personal safety.

Though the WPPA continues to support the general right of collective bargaining for all public employees, we appreciate that Gov. Scott Walker has consistently recognized the inherent differences between public safety employees and other employee groups that serve our communities.

As an elected leader, the mayor should understand that his public appeal for an expansion of Act 10 to police officers and firefighters ignores the reality that public safety employees are already paying toward their health insurance and their pensions in largely the same manner as general municipal employees. Since the 2011-2013 state budget was enacted, public safety employees can no longer negotiate over their health insurance benefits and costs. In addition, the vast majority of public safety contracts require police and fire employees to pay their share for pensions.

Any assertion that expanding Act 10 will free up funding that could be used to hire more employees is without any reasonable basis. Moreover, given that collective bargaining has helped police officers obtain invaluable equipment such as bullet-proof vests and tactical gear, the mayor’s assertions to broadly apply Act 10 to police officers and firefighters are offensive.

Barrett’s position on this issue ignores the risks confronted by those who keep our communities safe — the No. 1 priority identified by the public in the WPPA’s 2013 statewide poll. From a law enforcement perspective, the men and women who police our streets have successfully combated crime with limited resources, and it’s important to recognize that public safety employees are unique, both in the challenges that they face and in the critical role that they play in our communities. While our government provides a wide variety of invaluable services, the quality of those services requires at its core a safe community.

During his recent gubernatorial campaigns, Barrett portrayed himself as a leader who would work to bring people together, safeguard public safety and defend collective bargaining. In an apparent effort to divert responsibility for Milwaukee’s current violent crime wave, he now appears to have abandoned the very principles that once drew WPPA’s support, thus causing us to question whether that support was misplaced.

Just last year, Barrett promised the state’s electorate that, if elected governor, he would work to bring people together, govern from a foundation of truth and promote the high quality of public safety that our citizens deserve. Barrett has failed to meet the high ideals of his past campaigns, and in fact, he has turned his back on them in a quest of self-preservation in the face of public pressure over the growth of violent crime.

The people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole deserve better and should demand an open and honest discussion about the management of city budgets and the protections those budgets are supposed to provide. The mayor’s attempt to obfuscate these issues with divisive and diversionary politics only serves to undermine the faith we collectively ought to have in those whom we elect to manage the public trust.

James L. Palmer is executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

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