New rules, questions in place for determining public employee pay

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Sunday, May 13, 2012
— Public employees might see it as insult heaped upon injury.

Their ability to get a pay raise—the subject of new legislation and much political furor over the past year—is being limited even more than they expected.

Unionized public employees—excluding police officers, firefighters and bus drivers—already knew that Wisconsin Act 10 takes away their ability to bargain for working conditions and for benefits such as health insurance or retirement rules.

They already knew their take-home pay was being reduced to help pay for their pensions, and some also are paying more for health insurance.

The only thing they are allowed to negotiate for is a pay raise, and any pay increase is limited to the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

The CPI now stands at 3.16, so the maximum raise next year is 3.16 percent, right?

Not under new state rules.

The new rules govern technical details about how a pay increase is calculated.

They define total base wage—the number against which the percentage pay increase is applied.

This year, for example, the Beloit Turner School District teachers’ wages had been figured at $4.9 million. Add 3.16 percent, and that’s $154,840 in raises, to be divided among the 94 members of the union.

But the new rules allow only certain kinds of pay to be counted as total base wages.

The number must not include overtime, premium pay, lump-sum merit pay, performance pay, extra-duty pay or education credits.

In other words, a snowplow driver’s overtime is not counted. Any bonuses are not counted. Educational advancement, a foundation on which teacher pay has been based for decades, is not counted.

Remove the educational advancement pay from the Beloit Turner teachers’ total, and you’re left with $4.2 million, according to figures provided by Turner Superintendent Dennis McCarthy. So a 3.16 percent increase yields just $132,720 for raises.

The difference between the former scenario and the latter is $22,120 and works out to an average pay raise that is $235 lower.

Of course, all figures would be lower if bargaining led to something less than 3.16 percent—a distinct possibility given school district budget woes.

The rules punish teachers even more than before, said Ted Lewis, director of Rock Valley Education Professionals.

Lewis said the rules ensure that negotiations must result in a raise that doesn’t keep up with inflation.

It’s simple math, Lewis said: The 3.16 percent CPI is a measure of inflation, so if the wage increase is based on a number that is below what teachers are paid, then the increase must be lower than a 3.16 percent.

The announcement of the new rules led to confusion. Some worried the state was actually cutting the pay teachers now receive for educational advancement.

That’s not the case, said local school officials and at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which developed the rules.

“The rule does not require any cuts in pay for anybody,” said James Scott, the commission’s chairman. “But could the employer bargain for a reduction in pay? Sure.”

Scott said the rules that define total base wages are emergency rules, good for three months.

“In order make them permanent, they’re going to have to go back through the process, and the process right now is they have go through the governor’s office,” Scott said.

A recall election June 5 will determine who sits in the governor’s office.

The new rules also allow a union to negotiate how the money is distributed, with one exception, Scott said.

Unions may not negotiate a distribution that awards pay for educational advancement, Scott said.

But even if the union proposes a pay system, the employer could just say no.

If the two sides don’t come to agreement, unions may no longer appeal through the state’s interest-arbitration process, Scott said. The city or county or school district can simply impose its final offer.

Last updated: 8:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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