Walker ‘open to’ pension reform – Beloit Daily News: News

CHICAGO (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that he would be willing to consider changes in the state’s $77 billion pension system, with a report expected to be released this week on how the system could be improved.

“What I’ve said is I’m not proposing any changes at this time,” he told reporters after a speech at the Commercial Club of Chicago. “That doesn’t mean I won’t be open to them.”

Walker’s comments came just days after the Pew Center on the States determined Wisconsin was the only state in the nation with enough money to meet its current obligations and to pay pensions that have been promised to public employees. The Republican governor on Monday touted his efforts.

“We’re turning things around, we’re moving the state forward,” Walker said as he mentioned how the state has brought down the unemployment rate, seen property taxes go down for the first time on median valued homes in 12 years and turned a budget deficit into a surplus.

Walker suggested that some of what was done in Wisconsin could work elsewhere — a contention that helps explain why he was at the Commercial Club of Chicago, which has warned that companies will leave the state if Illinois does not reform its pension system.

Walker, who successfully fought back a recall effort, did his best to sound like a good neighbor to Illinois. Last year, he greeted the news that Illinois was raising personal income taxes and corporate tax rates with a call for disgruntled Illinois businesses to “Escape to Wisconsin.”

“I’m not here to poach businesses,” Walker said. Instead, he suggested that if major employers, particularly in the Chicago area, that have a “global presence,” they should consider Wisconsin.

“We’re interested not in taking companies, but rather with working with companies looking to grow,” he said.

Walker said he had a “good working relationship” with former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and would like to build a similar relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“It’s important for us to have a strong Illinois, a strong Chicago,” he said.

Walker said he did not know what the report on Wisconsin’s pension system, due to him and the Legislature, might say, and would not speculate. One thing he did stress was that he would not attempt to touch the pensions of current retirees, which he noted would be illegal.

Walker has repeatedly said he has no plans to alter the system, despite calling for the report to look at moving to defined contribution plans like a 401K or no longer requiring participation in the state system.

Many public workers and union leaders fear Walker has his eyes on changing the state’s pension system from a plan where benefits are guaranteed to the plans commonly offered by private businesses that have no such guarantee.

A number of Wisconsin unions, including those representing teachers and state workers that pushed unsuccessfully to recall Walker, have already joined together to fight any changes.

Both the Legislature and Walker would have to approve any changes to the system before they would take effect. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to be in session again until January, after the November elections.

A unique feature of Wisconsin’s pension system adjusts payouts to state workers based on how well the investments are doing. When times are good, retirees benefits can go up, but when the markets are down benefits can be reduced.

Benefits had been steadily increasing, but following the 2008 recession they dropped for the first time in 26 years. That so-called smoothing effect helps Wisconsin’s pension system spread losses out among its beneficiaries rather than looking to tax dollars or other means to make up the difference.

via Walker ‘open to’ pension reform – Beloit Daily News: News.

Lexington Mayor Gray Urges Pension Task Force To Redouble Efforts On Reform | LEX18.com | Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington mayor Jim Gray on Tuesday asked his Task Force on Pension Reform to redouble its efforts to find agreement on a plan to address the growing unfunded liability in Lexington’s pension fund.

Gray appointed the Task Force last October and charged it with forging an agreement on changes that need to be made to the fund to bring it back into balance, financially.

“This Task Force has worked hard, but we gave them a tall order. We shouldn’t be surprised it has been tough to find common ground, since some members of the group have different and occasionally opposing interests,” Gray said. Police officers and firefighters, business leaders and the Council have representation on the Task Force.

Gray also urged Police Chief Ronnie Bastin and Interim Fire Chief Keith Jackson to redouble their efforts to address the issue, specifically asking them to put together a police-fire work group to identify what pension rules can be changed easily, more difficult changes that are needed and what benefits should remain in place to keep Lexington competitive with other cities.

“This is a tough problem and it’s going to take all of us working together to solve it, from management to the rank and file,” Gray said. “We’ve got to overwhelm this problem with talent and people willing to examine it, get to the bottom of it, put a bear-hug around it and wrestle it to the ground.”

If the group cannot agree on a plan by December, Gray said he will ask Frankfort legislators in the next session to give Lexington control of its pension fund. “Problems like this don’t get better by ignoring them or by avoiding them,” he said. “There’s just too much at stake to look the other way any longer.”

The mounting pension unfunded liability – now estimated at $500 million – is unsustainable and threatens the city’s ability to provide basic services, Gray said. “This unfunded liability is double the city’s current annual General Fund budget. In trying to catch up, we’ve put in $182 million over the past four years in cash and bonds. It hasn’t made a dent.”

Gray said his predecessor and the last city council also tried to address the unfunded liability through a Task Force, but was unable to get reforms passed in Frankfort.

Currently, the legislature makes the rules for the pension fund while Lexington residents pay the bills, a system Gray described as fundamentally unfair. “If Lexington is paying the bills, and Frankfort cannot enact meaningful reform, then we deserve home rule,” he said.

The unfunded liability is threatening the city’s ability to provide other services Lexington residents have come to depend upon, and that includes services in police and fire, Gray said. “We cannot wait to tackle pension reform.”

via Lexington Mayor Gray Urges Pension Task Force To Redouble Efforts On Reform | LEX18.com | Lexington, Kentucky.

Union discord rankles Montz – Advertiser-Tribune.com | News, sports, jobs, Tiffin, Ohio – The Advertiser-Tribune

Mayor Aaron Montz talked about the need to end a dispute between the city and a labor union representing Tiffin’s Public Works employees during a Tiffin city Committee of the Whole meeting Monday.

The workers are represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“They filed a grievance against a contract that they were presented in March,” Montz said. “It’s been an ongoing battle. I think it’s utterly ridiculous. Earlier this year they tried to keep our pool from opening.”

Montz commented on the length of time it took to file the grievance.

“They had to either approve the terms of the contract or go on strike. They did approve the terms, it’s just the union leadership is refusing to sign the contract.”

Montz said the union accepted the contract 17-4.

An attempt to reach an AFSCME representative was unsuccessful Monday evening.

Montz and city council members say they are confused by the union’s actions.

“They accepted the terms of the contract and we did too, but for some reason they don’t want to sign it,” Council President Paul Elchert said.

“A hearing is set up for Friday with union representatives of the AFSCME union and their representative out of Toledo,” Montz said.

Officials hope for a quick resolution.

“This could take up a lot of administrative time that needs to be spent on other things,” Councilwoman Lori Ritzler said.

Montz said the financial impact depends on how long the dispute drags out.

The city contracts through a total of four unions representing the police, dispatchers, fire and public works employees.

“It’s unfortunate because the article clearly stated that they should be treated as the other unions are, which is the exact same insurance that we all have here at city hall – the same insurance that I’m paying at non-union,” Montz said. “I’d like to thank our fire, police and dispatchers for settling so quickly and not having any issues.”

City council members briefly discussed a quarter-percent income tax increase for November’s ballot.

“Until we get things resolved, (with the unions) I don’t think we want to go very much in depth as to where we’re putting money, so this isn’t thrown back in our face,” Montz said.

Law Director Brent Howard and Montz agreed money generated from the tax increase would go toward replacing money lost from the state.

Howard said city council would have to pass a city ordinance mentioning the increase, which then would need to be transferred to the Board of Elections by Aug. 8.

“The increase would be a little less than $1 million,” Finance Director Gwynn Reinhart said. “We’re looking at $977,000.”

Immediately following the Committee of the Whole meeting, the Personnel and Labor Committee met to adjust a policy that currently allows city employees who call in sick to make up hours and receive overtime pay.

The committee passed a motion following the city’s request that still allows workers to make up sick hours, but they can no longer receive overtime pay during that pay period if overtime hours are worked.

via Union discord rankles Montz – Advertiser-Tribune.com | News, sports, jobs, Tiffin, Ohio – The Advertiser-Tribune.

Krenzen auto mechanics go on strike | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Fourteen mechanics and parts employees at the Krenzen car dealership in Duluth walked off the job Monday morning and began striking after employers failed to return to the bargaining table.

The four-year contract between United Auto Workers Local 241 and Krenzen and three Hermantown dealerships expired April 31. Subsequent talks through a federal mediator broke down in May.

The walkout at Krenzen followed a similar walkout of 17 mechanics and parts workers at Kolar Toyota on May 15. Striking mechanics now are picketing both sites.

About 30 mechanics and parts workers who are also covered by the contract remain on the job at Duluth Dodge and Kolar Chevrolet. Those dealerships, as well as Krenzen and Kolar Toyota, are represented by the Duluth Automobile Dealers Association in the contract negotiations.

“If we don’t get them back to the bargaining table, others will walk out,” said David Friske, a Krenzen mechanic who was picketing outside the dealership on Monday afternoon.

The 2.5 percent a year wage hike offered isn’t the issue, according to Alex Freeman, a striking master mechanic at Kolar Toyota. Higher employee contributions to health insurance and employees being asked to pay a surcharge for their underfunded pension fund are issues, he and union president Del Soiney say.

But the biggest sticking point is that dealerships want to reduce the times mechanics have to do repairs, veering away from industry guidelines used for years, according to the strikers.

“They want to eliminate wording in the contract so they can charge whatever they want and pay us whatever they want,” Freeman said.

Kevin Bushe, a mechanic and union steward at Krenzen, summed it up this way: “They’re not giving mechanics enough time to do the work. That’s the main deal.”

According to Soiney, the Kolar Automotive Group has already changed those times. So the UAW filed an unfair labor practice charge against them with the National Labor Relations Board in Minneapolis, he said.

David Solon, general manager of Kolar Toyota, declined to discuss the negotiations with the media. He said the dealership is continuing to service cars as much as possible.

Over at Krenzen, Friske said the mechanics made sure they didn’t start a repair Monday they couldn’t finish before their 10:30 a.m. walkout.

“We don’t want to make our customers mad,” he said. “We want them to come back. We didn’t want to leave people stranded. Our gripe is not with them, it is with the dealership.”

After all the union mechanics walked out of Krenzen, some cars remained in the parking lot unserviced, Friske said. And at least one customer was called at 11 a.m. and asked to pick up his car without all the repairs done.

But co-owner Howie Krenzen said Monday afternoon that vehicle servicing was continuing.

“We still have plenty,” he said. “We have service advisers and management that have all the knowledge and capability to service cars.”

And since Kolar Toyota mechanics walked out 10 days earlier, they expected their mechanics also would walk out eventually, he said.

via Krenzen auto mechanics go on strike | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

RTM OKs 3-Year Contract for 28 Town Hall Workers – Darien, CT Patch

With little discussion and in a nearly unanimous 55-2 vote, a special session of the Representative Town Meeting approved a three-year contract Monday with the union representing 28 Town Hall employees.

The RTM met in a special session primarily to approve the contract. Only 57 members of the body showed up for the meeting.

United Public Service Employees Union members will receive a 1.75 percent general wage increase for the fiscal year ending June 30, then a 2.25 percent increase in each of the following fiscal years.

The union agreed to increase its proportion of the cost for health insurance premiums from the current 14.5 percent to 15 percent starting on June 30. For the following two fiscal years, the rate would stay the same, then increase to 15.5 percent on June 30, 2014, the same day the current contract ends.

Compared to contracts in other towns

By comparison, according to Town Administrative Officer Karl Kilduff, Westport’s Town Hall union members pay 13 percent of premiums, and for Greenwich Town Hall employees the share is 9 percent for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and 10 percent for the next fiscal year.

Bruce Orr, chairman of the RTM Finance & Budget Committee, said his panel met, although with only five members present, there was no quorum. Nevertheless, those at the meeting endorsed approval of the contract, he said.

His committee thought the terms of the contract were “reasonable and in line” with similar union contracts in nearby towns, Orr said.

Dennis Maroney of District 3 was one of only two RTM members to vote against the contract. He said after the meeting that he believed there were added costs to the contract through higher prices for health insurance, and he thought the town should try harder to avoid those higher prices.

The employees covered by the contract mostly work in “administrative functions” in Town Hall, and they include staff in the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Emergency Management Office, Orr said.

Already budgeted

Money to pay for the wage increases is already in contingency funds in the town budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, he said.

Orr said that in the previous, four-year contract, annual wage increases were 3.5 percent in the first year, then 3.25 percent in each of the following three years, ending on June 30, 2011. The union has been without a contract as wage negotiations dragged on for more than a year.

In a memorandum to the Board of Finance, which endorsed the contract earlier this month, Kilduff wrote that Greenwich recently approved a contract with a union representing similar workers that was higher, and the statewide average settlement for each of the years in question was also higher than the contract Darien negotiated.

Kilduff gave out these figures in his memo, showing general wage increases negotiated with municipal employees:

Contract Year Darien Greenwich State Average

Fiscal Year 2011-12 1.75% 1.90% 2.32%

Fiscal Year 2012-13 2.25% 2.30% 2.30%

Fiscal Year 2013-14 2.25% 2.27%

Among the other changes in the contract:

The probationary period for new employees can be extended an extra three months after the three-month period provided for by the current contract. The town will have to state in writing why the period was extended.

Employees who lose a mother, father, spouse or child receive three days of funeral leave in the current contract. The new contract will increase that to five.

Employees on short-term disability may continue to take six months off from work, but now the employee can only take that much during any (rolling) 12-month period.

When an employee is on long-term sick leave, the town will continue to pay the difference between an employee’s Workers’ Compensation payments and the employee’s salary, but the new contract limits that full payment to the first nine months. After that, the payments start to decrease.

About the Workers’ Compensation change, Kilduff wrote:

“This change presents an opportunity to achieve future saving in workers compensation by bolstering our commitment to risk management, controlling costs and reducing time lost which should close cases faster.”

via RTM OKs 3-Year Contract for 28 Town Hall Workers – Darien, CT Patch.

Coshocton City Council approves extending contracts | Coshocton Tribune | coshoctontribune.com

COSHOCTON — Union contract negotiations are under way representing 48 city employees who have worked the past three years without a pay increase.

With the contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 216 expiring Friday, Coshocton City Council passed an ordinance to extend the contract ratified by employees in 2009.

The ordinance also covers the contract with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local No. 2551, which expires July 31.

The contracts are extended until agreements are reached or the ordinance is amended.

There are about 31 city employees at the water and wastewater treatment plants and the water distribution and street departments who are covered by the AFSCME contract. Seventeen members of the Coshocton Fire Department are covered by the IAFF union contract.

Three years ago, both groups agreed to a three-year wage freeze and an increase in employee contributions to their Public Employee Retirement System funds.

Currently, employees pay 3 percent of their portion of the Public Employee Retirement System funds and the city pays 7 percent, and 100 percent of its share, Mayor Steve Mercer said.

None of the employee share for new hires is paid by the city.

Pay increases were approved by council in May for 27 non-bargaining positions, mostly administrative and support staff, after a three-year freeze. The 8 percent wage increase came with the elimination of the city paying any portion of the employee’s share of PERS, which previously was 7 percent.

A 1 percent pay raise will take effect June 1, 2013, for the non-bargaining employees, with another 1 percent raise on June 1, 2014.

via Coshocton City Council approves extending contracts | Coshocton Tribune | coshoctontribune.com.




Duluth Fire Fighters win in Court of Appeals

Because we conclude that the district court properly granted the motion to compel arbitration and then, in confirming the arbitration award, correctly found that the arbitrator did not exceed his powers, we affirm.

Walker can’t be blamed for state’s sluggish growth – JSOnline

What’s the matter with Wisconsin?

That’s the question economists, policy-makers, job seekers – and especially Gov. Scott Walker – must be asking as the state’s economy continues to struggle amid historic political uncertainty and fallout from the recession.

As Journal Sentinel reporters showed last weekend, Wisconsin, alone among the states, lost private-sector jobs for much of 2011. The jobs news was better last week when the state announced that Wisconsin gained 15,700 private-sector jobs in January and the state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9%.

At the same time, though, revisions in earlier data showed Wisconsin lost nearly 10,000 jobs in 2011. And even though the news was brighter last week, the state’s recent economic performance remains worrisome, all the more so because other states that, like Wisconsin, are dependent on manufacturing seem to be doing better. According to the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve, Wisconsin was one of only six states whose economies are expected to contract this year.

Whatever the reason – and almost everyone seems to have a theory – we’d caution against a rush to judgment based on only a few months of data. Earlier in 2011, the state was creating private-sector jobs – gains that were wiped out and then some in the second half of the year. But with manufacturing gaining steam here and around the country, it’s likely that jobs will continue to grow.

Although Walker promised 250,000 new private-sector jobs would be created during his four-year term, we’ve always been skeptical that he – or any politician – could do that much to turn a complex and globally connected economy such as Wisconsin’s. Of course, we’ll still hold Walker to his pledge – he’s the one who insisted on making it – but there is a giant caveat attached to any such promise.

So what’s going on? Could the political tornado that blew into Wisconsin with Walker’s attempts to bust public employee unions – followed by a storm of protest and serial recall elections – have something to do with Wisconsin’s job famine? Perhaps. Companies thinking of relocating here or expanding might reconsider, especially if they believe Walker is on his way out the door of the governor’s mansion.

But whether a company hires or not has much more to do with demand for its product or service. Perception plays a role – but only at the margins.

Could it be that the cut in take-home pay for thousands of public workers around the state, who now pay more toward their health insurance and pensions, is a drag on job growth? The left-leaning Institute for Wisconsin’s Future makes that argument below. But Walker had to balance the budget somehow. He chose to cut spending and to make workers pay more. What if he had chosen to raise taxes, as the institute likely would favor? What kind of a drag would that be on the economy?

Others theories abound, including the possibility that some industries remain mired in a slump. Or that continued sluggishness in Europe is affecting Wisconsin exporters. Or that a chronic skills mismatch is to blame. All are likely factors.

But while Walker may be an easy political target, we’re not buying this particular criticism of the governor. For all of our concerns with Walker’s policies, he did bring the state’s budget into balance with a minimum of tricks, and he did it without layoffs, without cutting core services and without debilitating tax increases. He also put in place new ideas for job creation that deserve time to work, including the restructuring of the state Department of Commerce into the nimbler Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. We think the passage of tort reform was helpful. We think Walker’s cheerleading for Wisconsin businesses is a plus.

We disagree with the governor over the way he confronted public workers, but he was not wrong to expect them to pay more toward their pension and health benefits. And he was not wrong to demand more control for state and local government over benefits. The unions had to be confronted on those issues.

Politicians are always eager to offer simple solutions; voters sometimes are too eager to believe them. The real reasons elude such mushy thinking. Whatever is the matter with Wisconsin – if, indeed, anything is – has a whole lot more to do with business conditions here and elsewhere than it does with the actions of any single politician.

via Walker can’t be blamed for state’s sluggish growth – JSOnline.

Pike County, union headed to arbitration – Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports

PITTSFIELD, Ill. — Pike County is heading into arbitration with the union representing its ambulance workers.

The union filed a grievance in May after the county provided back pay to employees under a new contract with salary increases retroactive to 2011.

“We paid what we agreed to. The union says we somehow didn’t do it right,” County Board member Walker Filbert said.

Pike County and its ambulance workers, represented by the Operating Engineers Local 965, spent more than a year hammering out details of a first-ever contract. The union ratified the contract in March, and the county approved the agreement in April.

The three-year agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011, calls for a 6 percent raise in the first year and 2 percent raises in the second and third years. The agreement also guarantees the opportunity for a 48-hour work week, or the chance to work eight hours of overtime every week.

The first-year raise in the agreement helps workers catch up from years when they received no pay increase, and both sides had agreed to the salary increases in August.

The county paid about $24,000 in back pay to ambulance workers in May, according to the Public Safety Committee report presented Monday, calculating the amount based on what the county agreed to in the contract.

Filbert said resolving the union concerns is a three-step process.

The union first notifies the county about any errors. The county may respond to the union, but “we didn’t respond. We thought we did it right,” Filbert said. The second step calls for talking about the issue, but the county believes there is nothing to talk about.

“The third step is to go to arbitration,” Filbert said. “That’s where we will be going.”

The Public Safety Committee earmarked $10,000 for legal fees connected to the arbitration.

Also Monday, board members approved a $4,000 donation to the Pike County Volunteer Emergency Corps recommended by the Public Safety Committee.

The corps approached the county in November hoping for financial help to continue its operations. Organized in 1956, the corps focuses primarily on searching for drowning victims in Pike County and beyond.

The county typically had donated around $2,000 a year to help fund the corps and paid another $3,600 in rent per year when the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency was housed in the corps’ New Canton facility. The county relocated its ESDA to Pittsfield, which meant the end of the monthly rent payments and created a budget issue for the corps.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Cleve Curry expects the donation to the corps to become a line item in the ESDA budget.

In other action, board members:

• Learned Big River Fish is getting ready to start building at its Griggsville site, but the facility likely won’t be ready until January. The Pearl-based processing company bought the shuttered Sell Best Auction Co. and five acres from Ray and Nola Brown for $325,000 in November to expand its capability to process Asian carp for export to China. Plans call for adding a processing area, freezers and coolers for fish storage, a blast freezer and an ice plant in the former auction house.

• Approved an updated building permit application. The county’s Ag Committee worked on developing the more user-friendly form, which modified questions asked on the previous form.

• Learned County Engineer Chris Johnson will look at drainage on a Nebo site to see if anything can be done to help ease concerns of owners R. Kent and Diana Franklin. The Franklins bought the property at the intersection of County Highways 7 and 11 and propose to build a gas station and convenience store. Water is supposed to drain south along the city street adjacent to the property, but over time, the ditches have filled in, giving drainage water nowhere to go but the Franklin property.

• Appointed Katherine Rowles, Anna Beck, Ruth Holman and Jennifer Niebur to three-year terms, ending June 30, 2015, on the Pike County Board of Health.

• Named Richard Hoover to serve the remaining two years of Harold Booth’s three-year term on the Bay Creek Watershed Conservancy District.

• Made three appointments to the North Pike Fire District — Larry Spencer for a three-year term ending the first Monday of May 2013, Terry Martin for a three-year term ending the first Monday of May 2014 and Harley Garrett for a three-year term ending the first Monday of May 2015.

• Appointed James Martin and Brad Motley as trustees to the Samuel Taylor Cemetery Association with terms expiring June 30, 2014.

• Approved six-month reports from the county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer, zoning administrator and animal warden.

via Pike County, union headed to arbitration – Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports.

Hermantown parts ways with golf coaches | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

The Hermantown School Board terminated its volunteer coaching agreement with Kyle Ernst and accepted the resignation of head golf coach Cliff Ashby at its regular meeting Monday night.

Ernst was arrested June 14 after the Minnesota state golf tournament when police in Shakopee alleged he had purchased beer for girls and boys golf team members and drank with them in a hotel there. Four students were cited for underage drinking.

“The writing was on the wall,” Superintendent Brad Johnson said after the


Ashby and Ernst spoke with activities director Beth Clark and high school principal John Muenich last week, Johnson said, and the termination and resignation were decided on then.

The school board did not discuss the incident Monday.

via Hermantown parts ways with golf coaches | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.