October 7, 2015

Opinions divided on civil service reform bill

Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton)

Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton)

Opinions were sharply divided during a public hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, on proposed changes to civil service law in Wisconsin. State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) argued that the extensive overhaul of the century old system will eliminate existing protections.

“Other than you saying, ‘nope, nope, we’re still going to call it civil service’ . . . I’m not seeing the protections that are going to prevent wholesale cronyism and patronage,” Larson told the bill’s author, Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton). “An employee, under this bill, still cannot be terminated, they can’t be docked in pay, they can’t be suspended, except for just cause. We just happen to define what some of those really bad things are,” Roth said.

A state employee who viewed pornography at work was a frequently cited example during the hearing, before the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform.

The GOP bill would replace the civil service exam with a resume-based process, speed up the hiring process for state jobs extend the probationary period for new hires from 3 months to 2 years, and make it easier to fire state employees for misconduct.

“When instances come where they’re physically harming an employee or viewing pornographic material, we want to make sure that our agencies have the flexibility to get rid of them if they’re that kind of employee,” Roth said.

Several state agency administrators testified in favor of the legislation. “Help me trust you here,” Larson said. “What are the specific protections that we’re going to have, to make sure that we’re not having streamlined patronage coming out of this?”

Ray Allen, Secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions, says the bill would allow his agency to narrow down the list of prospective job applicants. “Is there a possibility that somebody who might be politically connected to somebody else gets on that list? It’s possible,” Allen said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not. But that doesn’t mean they get hired.”

Cate Zeuske, Deputy Secretary with the Department of Administration, said the proposed changes would help state employees. “It allows for the best to be rewarded . . . and then it allows those that really aren’t interested in following the procedures, rules and the laws to be disciplined as necessary,” Zeuske said.

That assessment was not shared by Paul Spink, the new President of AFCSME Council 32, representing state workers. “When we’re told that this bill is to help us attract the best and brightest to work for the state, it isn’t the test that’s stopping the best and brightest, it’s not the time lines,” Spink said. “It’s the fact that for years now, public employees have been treated poorly and paid less.”

“This is about bringing us into reformation, it’s about bringing us into the 21st century, it’s about giving people who are qualified the opportunity to serve,” said Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).

But Troy Bauch with AFSCME Council 24, said the proposed changes won’t help attract workers. “It is obvious that there is a serious retention and recruitment problem, and the reason why it exists is because it was created. You created it by demoralizing and demeaning public service,” through the passage of Act 10, said Bauch, who was especially critical of the provision extending the probationary period for new state hires, from six months to two years.

The committee chairman, Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) has scheduled a vote on the bill (SB-285) for next Tuesday, October 13.

Panel to hear testimony on reforming Wisconsin civil service

Senator Steve Nass

Senator Steve Nass

A legislative committee will hold a hearing bill to overhaul Wisconsin’s century-old civil service system. A Senate panel will hear testimony all day Tuesday, on replacing the civil service exam with a resume-based process, making it easier to fire for misconduct, and speeding up hiring.

Senator Roger Roth said it would all mean greater consistency and fairness. “These are plain and simple recruitment and retention reforms,” said Roth (R-Appleton). Roth said status quo allows problem state workers to stay employed – like a man caught looking at pornography on the job. Democrats have said some reforms may be needed, but the GOP bill will likely go too far.

State Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who chairs the Senate’s government reform panel, has scheduled the hearing to start at 8:30 in the morning.

UW graduate William Campbell awarded Nobel Prize

nobelprize2015-medA graduate of the University of Wisconsin is one of three scientists who’ve been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. William Campbell and Satoshi Omura of Japan were honored for discovering the drug Avermectin. Two derivatives of that drug helped reduce the presence of diseases caused by parasitic worms, mostly in Asia and Africa. The other Nobel Prize winner is Tu Youyou, China’s first medicine laureate. He created a drug that sharply dropped mortality rates for malaria.

The 85-year-old Campbell earned a doctorate degree from UW Madison in 1957. He worked for 33 years at Merck Pharmaceuticals, and is a research fellow-emeritus at Drew University in New Jersey. One of the diseases his drug helped reduce is river blindness, 90-percent of which is inflicted in Africa. The other disease causes swelling in limbs and genitals that affect 120-million people, primarily in Africa and Asia.

Risser bill would ban hunting in state parks

Wisconsin State Parks

Wisconsin State Parks

A state lawmaker wants to ban certain kinds of animal traps in Wisconsin, and to reverse a law which has allowed hunting in state parks. State Senator Fred Risser is offering the bills. Risser wants to prohibit steel jaw and body-gripping traps, as well as snares.

“There are other traps that work just as well,” said Risser (D-Madison). “These traps cause wildlife great suffering, but they also pose a threat to people and domestic animals.” Risser said he had not approached the Wisconsin Trappers Association prior to proposing the bill.

Hunting has only been allowed in state parks for the past two years, following passage of the Sporting Heritage Bill in 2012, intended to make it easier for people to participate in hunting and trapping. Risser voted against the measure in 2012, and now wants to reverse it.

“Individuals who don’t hunt, who want to enjoy a picnic with their families, who want to bird watch, who just want to enjoy our parks, should be able to do so within worrying about being shot up during hunting season,” Risser said. “The state of Wisconsin has plenty of land for hunters, and I think there ought to be certain oases where the public can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about guns.”

Wisconsin labor icon Marty Beil dead at 68

Marty Beil 1947-2015

Marty Beil 1947-2015

A longtime leader in Wisconsin organized labor is dead. Marty Beil, who served as executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, from 1985 until his retirement this past June, died Thursday night at his home in Mazomanie. He was 68.

“It’s a loss,” said Phil Nuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “We’ll mourn for a good friend, a good human being. There is no way in hell Marty would want us to stop our agenda fighting for worker justice and social justice and people having a chance to earn a better wage. If anything it puts more passion and motivation in our goal.”

Beil was an outspoken participant in the 2011 protests opposing Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10, which stripped public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.

“I’d be fooling you if I told you it wasn’t a difficult thing since 2011 under Act 10, but we’ve grown, we’ve gotten stronger,” Beil told WRN at the time of his retirement. Two out of three public employee union members dropped out in the wake of Act 10, and the state’s three AFSCME local councils consolidated. But Beil said young members were stepping up. “At the same time we can’t let our guard down, because Walker and his cronies in the legislature will continue coming after us, so it’s a constant fight.”

Beil began his career in 1969 as a probation and parole officer. In 1973, he became president of his statewide union and a member of its bargaining team. In 1978 he was elected Council 24 president, a position he held until being selected as the Council’s executive director. AFSCME, the public service employee union, was founded in Wisconsin and has grown to 1.6 million members nationally.

“Marty was a fiercely dedicated and passionate activist and leader for public employees and the services they provide for more than 40 years,” said Paul Spink, a long time member of Beil’s Local and now president of Council 32. “The labor movement is stronger today because of him. We are all devastated by this loss, but we will carry on and never forget his passion or commitment to the cause of economic justice.”

Beil’s was a vocal and often blunt voice in support of labor.  Following a 16-16 state Senate vote in 2010, Beil didn’t mince words. “My only comment is that Russ Decker is a whore,” Beil said, referring to then state Senator Russ Decker of Wausau, one of two Democrats who voted to oppose state labor contracts, which had already cleared the state Assembly. Beil also accused then Senator Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee with swapping his vote for an appointment in the upcoming Walker administration. Plale is now state Railroad Commissioner.

The rejection of the contracts, which came just before Governor Scott Walker took office, was among the factors that allowed Republicans to pursue highly controversial changes to collective bargaining for most state employees.

Elected officials who worked with Beil released statements on Friday.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of Marty Beil’s passing,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who served in the Wisconsin legislature during the Act 10 debate. “Marty dedicated his life to helping others and fighting on behalf of Wisconsin workers. Marty went to work every day to advocate for Wisconsin’s working families. And his legacy will reflect his desire to see all Wisconsinites have a chance to reach the American dream.”

“I am shocked and saddened by the passing of Marty Biel,” said Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona) who served as Senate Minority Leader during Act 10. “Marty Beil was a tireless advocate for worker’s rights, determined to better the circumstances for the working people of Wisconsin.”

“Anyone who has worked in Wisconsin, whether they were a union member or not, owes a debt of gratitude to Marty Beil,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. “He not only gave us better wages and working conditions, but he was dedicated to creating a safe and happy workplace.”