All over the state, public executives are exercising new authority. Instead of raising teachers’ salaries, the Mequon-Thiensville School District, near Milwaukee, froze them for two years, saving $560,000. It saved an additional $400,000 a year by increasing employee contributions for health care, said its superintendent, Demond Means. And it is starting a merit pay system for teachers, a move that has been opposed by some teachers and embraced by others.
Ted Neitzke, school superintendent in West Bend, a city of 31,000 people north of Milwaukee, said that before Act 10 his budget-squeezed district had to cut course offerings and increase class sizes. Now, the district has raised the retirement age for teachers and revamped its health plan, saving $250,000 a year. “We couldn’t negotiate or maneuver around that when there was bargaining,” Mr. Neitzke said. “We’ve been able to shift money out of the health plan back into the classroom. We’ve increased programming.”
James R. Scott, a Walker appointee who is chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which administers the law regarding public-employee unions, said that “as a result of Act 10, the advantages that labor held have been diminished.” He added: “It’s fair to say that employers have the upper hand now.”
In Oshkosh, Mark Rohloff, the city manager, says the law has saved his city $1.2 million a year, largely because employees are now paying more of their pension and health contributions. But he said state aid cuts of $2 million a year left his city with an $800,000 shortfall.
Among the city’s 560 city workers, union membership has fallen to 225, down from 450. The police and the firefighters, who were exempted from Act 10’s restrictions on collective bargaining, make up most of the remaining union members. Mr. Rohloff said his city’s police and firefighters have averaged annual raises of 2.5 percent, while the other workers had no across-the-board raises from 2010 to 2012, and received a 1 percent increase in 2013.
“Some of the employees who are not represented feel they’re second-class citizens compared to other employees,” Mr. Rohloff said.
Demoralization is the flip side of Act 10. In Oneida County in northern Wisconsin, the county supervisors jettisoned language requiring “just cause” when firing employees. Now, said Julie Allen, a computer programmer and head of the main local for Oneida County’s civil servants, morale is “pretty bad” and workers are afraid to speak out about anything, even safety issues or a revised pay scale. “We don’t have just cause,” she said. “We don’t have seniority protections. So people are pretty scared.”
Much more on Act 10, here.