County took right step on grievance procedure

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS THROUGHOUT THE state continue to struggle with meshing Act 10’s impact on employee relations with their own rules and regulations.

With Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial public employee labor relations act recently upheld by the state’s Supreme Court, Act 10 is now the law of the land in Wisconsin and school boards, towns, villages, cities and counties – and their employees – must learn to live with it.

The Sheboygan County Board of Supervisors had their latest tussle with post-Act 10 procedure writing last week, approving an ordinance that refines the appeal process for grievances filed by county employees.

That procedure had, in the past, been part of the contracts negotiated between the county and its employee unions, but Act 10 made that procedure non-negotiable and empowered local governments to establish their own procedure unilaterally.

Sheboygan County had established the County Board as the final arbiter of grievances and the board acted in that capacity for the first time last January.

The result was a marathon four-hour session that proved unwieldy and prompted a call for a more streamlined process.

The result was the proposal the board approved last week, making the Human Resources Committee, along with the County Board chairman and vice-chairman, the final judge and jury for such appeals.

The proposal drew fire from several supervisors, with Supervisor Jim Baumgart the most vocal in his opposition.

Baumgart likened the proposal to a hanging judge in the Old West and said that if he were a county employee, he would be “fearful of his job.”

While others on the board were not as dramatic in their imagery, they still expressed their concerns, particularly with the provision for an impartial mediator in disputes before the grievance reaches the final appeal.

Specifically, they questioned one word in the ordinance – that the Human Resources director

“may” appoint an impartial mediator. They requested a change in the word to “shall” and with that done, the ordinance met everyone’s approval but Baumgart’s.

His continued opposition, dire warnings and imagery remained extreme.

The new process is an attempt to provide fairness for all parties in the new atmosphere of public employee relations and county officials deserve credit for trying to make it work, instead of being stubbornly opposed to any proposal without putting forth any alternatives.

Finding a way in the Act 10 world is a process, and the county is making a good faith effort to find a fair way for all involved.

In the three years since Act 10 was adopted, the county has only had one employee grievance reach the final step – evidence that the county apparently enjoys good relations overall with its employees.

If it’s another three years before another grievance reaches the final step of the refined process, that will continue to be a good track record.

And if it is found then that the new system still needs tweaking, that tweaking can and will be done – without a “hanging judge.”

At issue:
County employee grievance process
Bottom line:
Tweaked properly

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