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Union sues Milwaukee County over layoffs

By: Eric Heisig//March 28, 2014

Union sues Milwaukee County over layoffs

By: Eric Heisig//March 28, 2014

A union representing 25 Milwaukee County Courthouse janitors who were laid off in December 2009 is suing the county, claiming those employees then were “blacklisted” from getting other county jobs.

The suit was filed Thursday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin by District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It alleges the cleaning staff members were laid off because of their association with the union.

The suit alleges that after the layoffs, the county “continued to refuse to provide references for or provided false information regarding the members of District Council 48 who sought employment with persons other than Milwaukee County, thereby blacklisting them from possible employment with persons other than Milwaukee County.”

The janitors were laid off when the county elected to outsource its cleaning to a private company. Employees of West Allis-based MidAmerican Building Services now clean the courthouse. The suit states the layoffs were due to a recommendation from then-County Executive Scott Walker and his staff members.

A September 2009 budget memo from Walker’s office states that contracting out cleaning services would save the county more than $1 million a year.

The union is asking for an unnamed amount in damages due to alleged First Amendment violations. The case was assigned to Eastern District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller.

Mark Sweet, an attorney with Sweet and Associates representing the union, referred a reporter to Boyd McCamish, the union’s executive director. McCamish did not immediately return a phone call Friday, but Dennis Hughes, a political organizer at the union, said the former employees and union have tried hard to lobby supervisors and judges since the cleaning services were outsourced.

County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren said Friday that the county hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, though he had read the complaint. He said he did not believe the claim had any merit.

“The allegation is that they were laid off because they were union members,” Bargren said, “and that’s not why they were laid off.”

The county outsourced the jobs to a private company, he said, and the laid off employees were not retaliated against.

The suit comes in the wake of an attempt by several county board members to terminate the contract with MidAmerican and create 21 new courthouse janitor positions. The measure was voted out of the board’s finance committee March 13, but it failed 7-11 when the full board voted March 20.

An opinion from Bargren states the 21 janitor positions “could not be designated for specific individuals,” and pointed out that the union contract at the time the janitors were laid off only had a recall period of three years and one day. That window has expired.

“Those former workers would need to compete,” the opinion states, “with other applicants for these civil service positions.”

Had the board passed the resolution, it would have cost the county an additional $440,655 this year and $665,932 in 2015.

Hughes said the union would have filed suit even if the board had passed the resolution, since it is looking to recover back pay. He said it waited to file until after the vote was taken because there was a concern that no vote would be taken if there was litigation pending.

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