In a landmark decision, the Wisconsin District IV Court of Appeals today issued a ruling in favor of the WPPA and on behalf of the jail deputies in Douglas County. After nearly two years of litigation, the Court ruled that county jailers who are classified by their employers as having “protective occupation participant” status constitute “public safety employees” with collective bargaining rights under law changes enacted in 2011. The WPPA’s victorious decision comes after a hard-fought effort to maintain these employees’ labor and employment rights.
For many years, around half of the counties in the state classified their jailers as “protective occupant participants” for purposes of the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). This classification, which cannot be bargained and is almost entirely within a county’s discretion, certifies that these employees primarily perform law enforcement functions. The protective status designation generally recognizes the dangerous work environments in which these employees must operate by allowing them to retire at an earlier age due and providing them with duty disability benefits in the event they are injured in the line of duty.
Amidst the many collective bargaining law changes that went into effect in 2011 was a provision that exempted “public safety employees.” As this provision applies to county jailers, the law requires that they must be both a protective occupation participant and a “deputy sheriff.” Wisconsin’s statutory definition of “deputy sheriff,” which has remained the same for many years and was not impacted by the 2011 law changes, generally includes any employee of a sheriff’s office that is primarily engaged in active law enforcement duties.
Despite certifying that its jailers primarily performed law enforcement duties as protective occupation participants for many years, Douglas County boldly refused to bargain with them in 2011, claiming that the jailers did not meet the new “public safety employee” definition and therefore had lost their bargaining rights along with most other general municipal employees. The County requested a declaratory judgment from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC), which regrettably agreed. The WPPA immediately appealed the state agency’s decision to the Dane County Circuit Court, which reversed the WERC’s decision in late 2012. Douglas County and the WERC both appealed that ruling, which the Court of Appeals resoundingly affirmed today.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals clearly held that county jailers who are classified by their employers as having the protective status classification constitute deputy sheriffs with full collective bargaining rights and protections. The WPPA was the first labor organization in the state to challenge county employers on this issue, and this successful decision is a tremendous victory for many of the dedicated men and women who serve their communities in county jail facilities. Due to the WPPA’s efforts alone, protective status county jail deputies must now be recognized as members of the public safety community, where they rightfully belong.
WPPA Staff Attorney Roger Palek has been the chief advocate in this litigation, with the assistance of the Douglas County Jailers Association leadership, WPPA representatives Al Bitz and many others on the WPPA staff.
The WPPA continues to successfully demonstrate our commitment to you and your service, and our ability to otherwise stand strong and lead the way.
For more information about this case or any other in which the WPPA is fighting for you, please contact WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.