Chris Abele Warns of Secret Negotiations between Board and Union

MacIver News Service | April 12, 2013

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is concerned the County Board of Supervisors is violating Act 10 and open meetings law by meeting with a decertified public sector union behind closed doors to negotiate a new labor contract, he told the MacIver News Service.

“For the life of me, I don’t see the urgency in negotiating a new contract with a decertified union,” he said. “But the county board doesn’t tell me those things.”

Abele said the county’s corporation council advised him on the legal risks of such negotiations. To Abele, that translates directly into financial risks for the taxpayers.

“Negotiations in the past haven’t always ended well for taxpayers,” he said. “There’s no amount that’s too little to try to save. We’re stewards of resources that aren’t ours. They’re yours, and I take that seriously.”

Act 10 limits collective bargaining to base wage cost of living increases. Additionally, unions are required to hold a recertification vote every year. AFSCME District Council 48 did not, which means it has been decertified and has no legal standing to represent workers in negotiations. Additionally, open meetings law only allows closed door negotiations if it is first proposed in open session. That supposedly did not happen here.

On March 22nd Abele shared his concern with the Supervisors in an email.

“I am writing to share my concern with you regarding the direction given to the Department of Labor Relations last week in the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee. I have asked for and received a clarifying legal opinion from Corporation Counsel that further underscores the risk to the County if the Department of Labor Relations proceeds as directed. Given this risk, I urge you to reconsider that direction,” the email read.

One Supervisor, Deanna Alexander, replied that she couldn’t discuss the matter because “I have been warned, in a rather abrasive manner, that I am under, essentially, an ‘internal county board gag order in addition to being silenced by closed session meetings laws.”

So, although the Milwaukee County Board could have violated the open meetings law in a closed session meeting, Alexander could also be breaking open meetings law if she tells anyone about it.

“I have been told that I may not legally speak with anyone who was not present at the meeting, including you and other Supervisors, about the decisions my colleagues made against my and corporation counsels’ advice,” Alexander wrote to Abele.

The story of these alleged secret negotiations between the county board and the union is just beginning to emerge. This past Sunday Aaron Rodriguez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blogger, broke the story online. Since then County Executive Abele appeared on a talk radio show. His office says reporters across the city are now beginning to take notice.