Even though Governor Scott Walker rescinded layoff notices last month for state public employees, there still may be more furlough days ahead for state prosecutors.
David A. Feiss, president of the Wisconsin Association of State Prosecutors, said his union received a 30-day lay-off notice from the Office of State Employee Relations earlier this week.
“The State indicated that unless the bargaining unit agreed to take six additional furlough days, it would be seeking layoffs,” Feiss said. “But instead of laying people off, they would reduce the percentage of work hours by 20 percent to 80 percent.”
If the hours were reduced, the union’s 345 state prosecutors would see a reduction in their pension, sick time and vacation time. However, if they accept the additional furlough days, the time off would result in a salary reduction and would have no impact on their benefits, Feiss said.
The furlough request would be in addition to the five furlough days the state’s prosecutors are already taking.
Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said the notice, which only focuses on the state prosecutors and not the other 19 public employee unions, corrects what former Governor Jim Doyle didn’t do in the last biennial budget.
“This really goes back to the budget in 2003, but Doyle never changed it,” Wanggaard said.
In 2009, the prosecutors’ union agreed to five furlough days because they had a protection clause in their contract from 2003 that effectively capped potential furlough days at five.
However, the other 19 state public employee unions had to agree to eight furlough days a year in their contract in 2009 because they did not have the cap.
This is because all of the other unions have a “me too” clause, said Mike Nieskes, district attorney for Racine County.
“Basically it means if another union gets a better deal, we all get better a better deal,” he said.
And with that better deal would mean more employee costs.
“The State is under the impression that if they don’t compel us to take the time off, they will have to pay out $11 million to other bargaining units,” Feiss said.
While the district attorneys themselves are exempt, no matter what happens – the reduction in hours or days – throws a monkey wrench into how the county handles its caseload and could impact what charges will get prosecuted, Nieskes said.
“This is a big deal,” Nieskes said. “Essentially we could be losing 20 percent of our work hours, and that means that something is not going to get done."
Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) said he'd not been told of this development until Patch contacted him, but he said he hopes residents won't stand for it.
"Reducing ADA hours by 20 percent means less time to keep citizens safe and put criminals behind bars," he said. "This is what Wisconsin will look like under Scott Walker."
This is part of the effect of big budget cuts and taking away collective bargaining rights, Mason added, and keeping assistant district attorneys from prosecuting cases is not acceptable.
At this point, Nieskes said he’s bracing for the worst and he’ll be looking at the possibility of not charging certain misdemeanor crimes or delaying cases.
“This is something we’re looking at and still trying to decide,” he said. “Maybe some misdemeanors won’t get charged or we’ll look to adjourn some matters.”
Still, Scott Kelly, Wanggaard's chief of staff, said the issue caught Wanggaard off guard and he's currently trying to work with Secretary Mike Huebsch, of the Department of Administration, to see if there is a better way to handle the issue.
Kelly said Wanggaard has also spoken with Nieskes about his concerns.
"There are concerns that come up with this," Kelly said. "If we have people on four day work weeks, defense attorneys and judges can argue these cases are not ready diligent fashion and they can ask to have them dismissed."
For the Association of State Prosecutors union, the next step is to decide whether to take the furlough days or the reduction in hours, either way the effective date would be May 8.
“If we’re unable to find a resolution, the issue for our members is understanding how this affects their own economic or the impact it will have on the justice system,” Feiss said.
Calls made to the Governor's office were not returned.