Workers with rights can't just be dumped for those without them
March 31, 2011- Lester Pines isn't at a loss for reasons to dislike a provision in Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair bill" that calls for replacing civil servants in key state agency positions with political appointees.
"This is one of the biggest power grabs in the history of the state, and it will completely undermine the ability of the public to get the straight story from this administration, ever," says Pines, a prominent local lawyer.
The bill, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "would make existing civil service positions into 37 new political appointments, including 14 general counsels, 14 communications positions in state agencies and other positions, including legislative liaisons doing lobbying for agencies. That would allow Walker and agency secretaries to hire and fire employees in those positions at will."
In other words, the state's top agency lawyers and spokespeople will have no civil service protections. "The point of doing this," opines Pines, "is to make it easier for the governor to implement his policies rather than have employees who look out for the interests of the public."
But Pines, who has represented employees in actions against the state and the state against actions brought by employees, notes one little problem with Walker's scheme: It affects people who have civil service protections.
These are protections Walker himself has repeatedly stated are vastly superior to those afforded by collective bargaining. They include, under state statute 230.44(1)(c), a strong prohibition against "demotion, layoff, suspension, discharge or reduction in base pay," except for just cause.
In other words, the three dozen or so current workers being elbowed aside so Walker can appoint cronies must all be given new jobs at the same classification level and salary. Otherwise, says Pines, the state is "going to run afoul of the law" and expose itself to legal action.
It is possible the governor plans to keep the same people in these jobs while just changing the status of these positions. But if so, these individuals would retain their civil service protections, says Pines, meaning they could not be removed without being given a new position or for just cause.
If all 37 positions involve hiring new people, at $80,000 a year for salary and benefits — on the low side for top agency lawyers and spokespeople — that's $3 million a year in additional costs.
In other words, in the name of "repairing" the budget, Walker could be adding greatly to it.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie (annual salary: $60,767), as usual, did not respond to inquiries on this matter from Isthmus. Let's hope that's not an example of how Walker's other handpicked spokespeople will behave.