160 local bargaining units want vote to remain recognized

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MADISON (AP) — One hundred and sixty local government bargaining units have notified the state that they want to take a vote on remaining officially recognized under Wisconsin’s new, more restrictive collective bargaining law.

Monday’s filing deadline applies to all non-school district local bargaining units, including cities, towns, villages, counties and technical colleges. Only those that did not sign a new contract by June 29 or had an extension that expired by Monday are subject to the deadline.

The new requirement was part of the law proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year despite massive protests that made Wisconsin the center of the national debate over union rights.

Anger over that law spawned recall elections last year that saw two Republican state senators lose their seats. Walker, his lieutenant governor and four more Republican state senators are being targeted for recall this year.

School districts and state employee bargaining units faced deadlines last year for staying organized. All six state employee bargaining units that sought recertification were approved and 177 of 208 bargaining units for teachers and support staff voted to stay officially recognized.

Many of the largest units, including the 50,000 state employee union, didn’t seek recertification. Labor leaders said it was largely pointless given that the new law limits what can be collectively bargained to wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation. All other subjects, like working conditions and benefits, are not subject to bargaining.

Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission chairman Jim Scott said Monday that he didn’t know how many potential local government bargaining units were facing Monday’s deadline. The 160 units that had notified WERC that they wanted to hold an election to remain certified represented about 4,900 workers across Wisconsin.

Those elections will be held in February and March, Scott said. To stay officially recognized, at least 51 percent of those covered must vote in favor.

Most of those seeking the certification vote were very small bargaining units representing an average of 30 workers each. They include a Town of Saxton engineers union that has one worker, a Milwaukee County building and construction trade unit with 79 employees, and IndianHead Technical College in northwest Wisconsin, which has 170 workers covered by the American Federation of Teachers.