Plans to have a state arbitrator choose between the contract offers from the Caledonia police officers union and the village were thwarted after the village officials challenged an insurance provision in the union's final offer.
So now the two sides are heading back to the bargaining table to see if they can hammer out a mutually acceptable deal.
Bob West, a consultant to the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the village sent an email to the state arbitrator stating it believes the union's final offer is not legal because it contained language about co-pay and deductible levels, which the village believes the union can't legally negotiate. The budget repair bill Scott Walker approved in 2011 essentially barred public unions from being able to negotiate certain aspects of insurance coverage, including co-pay and deductible levels.
The email, according to West, questioned the legality of the union's offer. But West filed an objection with the commission stating that he believes the challenge was filed after the deadline for making such objections.
“The union basically said, 'You should have raised that issue a long time ago, but we’re open to looking at a possible solution,'” said Peter Davis, who serves as general council for WERC. “So they are going back to bargaining table with the assistance of our staff, thus removing the need for litigation.”
Timeliness aside, a main sticking point is whether the union can tie their level of benefits with their non-union counterparts, which is often called the “me too” clause.
The village sought to pressure police and fire union members into paying more for their pensions by offering them higher deductible insurance plans. Pension and health insurance costs make up a substantial portion of the village budget, and village officials sought to ease the pressure of loosing state revenue aid since they wouldn't be able to increase the village tax levy.
Village Administrator Mark Janiuk wouldn’t go into details about the informal challenge, but he confirmed that the village did challenge one of the provisions in the police contract.
“When that happened, the parties agreed that we should have one more session to see if things can be worked out. No decisions have been made in regard to the challenge,” Janiuk said.
The village’s offer would extend the expired contract the union is currently working under. That offer doesn’t ask police union personnel to pay 5.9 percent into their pension. The insurance plan has a village-paid $1,000 health reimbursement account that kicks in after a $250 deductible.
But police union employees also have a high deductible insurance plan that is higher than the non-represented employees have.
The one-year deal proposed by the village also does not include any raises.
In the tentative agreement that has now become the union’s final offer, the union is asking for a 2 percent salary increase in each of the next three years. In return, employees would pay just under 2 percent of their salaries into pensions for 2012, just under 4 percent in 2013, and 5.9 percent in 2014.
The offer would also increase the contribution to their health insurance from 10 to 11 percent 2013, and 12 percent 2014 for a lower deductible plan than employees have now.
Back to mediation
Because of the challenge, the arbitration hearing, which was set to happen Oct. 4, was postponed and the two sides are now going to try mediation again. If they are not successful in coming up with a contract, then they’ll go back to arbitration.
If a formal challenge to the final offer were filed, then the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission would rule on that. But since the challenge hasn’t been made formally, the two sides have decided to meet with the mediator again to hammer out a contract
The mediation session has been set for Oct. 23.
If the two sides can’t agree, the matter will proceed to arbitration and that will likely not take place until spring, West said.
“We believe they didn’t follow proper procedure,” West said. “They threw a monkey wrench into things with this filing, but I’m hopeful that both parties will compromise and come to an agreement…. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be very complicated.”