West Allis city employees chill out with pay freeze

Published on: 9/13/2011

West Allis - It's now official: No one, union or otherwise, in West Allis city government will get a raise this year.

Five of the six labor unions representing city employees agreed last fall that their workers would get raises only if the city made a pre-determined amount of money on three types of revenues - state aid, interest earnings and building permits - last year.

That didn't happen, based on the 2010 audit completed this summer.

'The revenues were not high enough to reach the threshold for even a small increase,' said City Administrator Paul Ziehler, who like other managers will also not see a pay raise.

Union cooperation

Basing raises on revenues was a first for West Allis and is rare anywhere else, said Ziehler, who also said it showed the unions being sensitive to taxpayers who are suffering in the down economy.

'We give kudos and credit to them because they know what is happening in the economy and how tough things are out there,' he said.

Those unions represent employees in the Fire Department, nurses, engineering, clerical and Department of Public Works. Police already said they would take a pay freeze this year in a separate contract, which also gives them small increases in 2012 and 2013, Ziehler said.

Under bargaining changes

Police and fire personnel are not covered by a new state law that strips public employee unions of their bargaining power. As of this year under the law, those unions can only negotiate is pay, and that only up to the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index.

As a result, all employees except police and fire, but including administrators, will pay 5.8 percent into the pension fund starting Jan. 1, Ziehler said. The new state law requires public employees to contribute 5.8 percent toward their pensions. Even though police and firefighters are not affected by the new law, all new police officers and firefighters hired will pay the 5.8 percent, Ziehler said.

City officials hope to be able to balance the 2012 budget without asking employees to also pay more for health insurance, he said. They already pay 5 percent of premiums, but the new state law requires public employees to pay 12.6 percent if they are under the state health insurance plan, which West Allis is not. But other communities whose employees aren't in the state plan either now require employees to pay 12.6 percent.

Ziehler hopes West Allis won't be one of them.

Financial questions

However, the city does have roughly a $500,000 budget hole in the 2012 budget to fill because of the loss in state aid and the state revenue cap.

State legislators had hoped that the so-called 'tools' - stripping away of unions' bargaining rights and requiring most employees to contribute certain amounts toward pensions and health insurance - they gave municipalities and schools would be enough to make up any shortfalls.

But the tools fell short in many places, including West Allis.

The $500,000 budget hole should be manageable in a total operating budget for 2012 is shaping up to be about $55 million, Ziehler said.

- Jane Ford-Stewart