MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Republican-controlled legislative committee on Thursday approved the first Wisconsin state employee pay plan created under a new law that takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers, despite objections from those who will be covered by it.
The plan, put forward by Gov. Scott Walker's administration, includes no pay raises for roughly 41,000 state workers and 25,000 University of Wisconsin employees over the next two years. It makes a number of changes related to how overtime is assigned and the way raises are awarded, but leaves virtually unchanged provisions related to vacation, sick leave and other benefits.
Union members and leaders, as well as two Democratic lawmakers, spoke out against the plan, saying it undoes numerous provisions including required discussions between workers and management that they said led to the creation of a safe workplace. They also said the plan was created by Walker's administration with no input from rank-and-file workers.
Marty Beil, director of the 23,000-member Wisconsin State Employees Union, called the plan unconscionable and said morale among state workers is at an all-time low.
"This proposal marks the implementation of the destruction of our collective bargaining rights," Beil said. "This plan unravels decades of painstakingly crafted, long-standing rules and policies that were agreed upon by workers and managers at the bargaining table and ratified by the Legislature."
But Greg Gracz, director of the Office of State Employment Relations, said most provisions under previous collective bargaining agreements were being left unchanged. He said the biggest changes were related to how overtime is assigned and paid.
"These proposed changes will allow the agencies to operate in the most efficient and economic manner while providing the best service to the people of Wisconsin," he said.
Despite the opposition, the Joint Committee on Employment Relations voted 6-2 to approve it. Both Democrats on the committee voted against it.
The committee's vote was all that was needed for the plan to take effect, which will occur in January. Previously, collective bargaining agreements needed to pass both the committee and the Legislature.
That process was changed under the law that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers and required them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits. It passed in March despite massive protests and all 14 Democratic state senators going to Illinois for three weeks to try to block it. Ongoing anger over the law helped spawn a drive that began Tuesday to recall Walker from office.
The law required unions that wish to officially remain a collective bargaining unit to go through annual recertification votes. The largest state employee unions, including the Wisconsin State Employees Union, chose not to go through that process.
Six smaller unions did vote to recertify under the new law and will be able to collectively bargain over salary increases no greater than the rate of inflation, which would be about 2 percent next year.
Previously, the pay plan only covered about 9,000 workers but now because of the loss of bargaining rights it will cover 41,000, Gracz said.
Walker issued a statement praising adoption of the plan, saying it is good for workers and respectful of taxpayers. He said the plan is another step in providing core government services without raising taxes.
No state employees spoke in support of the plan at the hearing.
The plan gives agencies new discretion to determine who should work overtime, regardless of seniority. It also stops the practice of paying overtime to workers who call in sick for a shift and then work the immediate next one.
Excessive overtime costs have been an issue for years in Wisconsin, highlighted by an audit in May that found state agencies and the UW System spent $70 million on it in 2010. More than half of that came from the Department of Corrections.
Gracz previously said changes in the pay plan would save about $5 million in Corrections alone, but there was no estimate for the rest of state government.
The plan also removes separate state agencies' ability to give merit raises and places it instead with the Office of State Employment Relations. Gracz said recommendations on who gets raises will still come from the agencies and his office's role will simply be to ensure proper procedures were followed.
Under the new law, management and employees will no longer come together to create a better workplace environment as was required under collective bargaining agreements, said Bryan Kennedy, president of the 17,000-member American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin.
"This system cannot work and we will find very shortly that it will not work," he said.
Beil said doing away with collective bargaining agreements, and uncertainty over how the new pay plan will be implemented, has fueled an increase in retirements of state workers.
"Workers in state agencies are doing the work of two or three people," he said. "Expectations haven't changed, but workloads have increased, and people are stressed out."