In response to Wisconsin Act 10, the controversial law that stripped most collective bargaining rights from public workers, the Waupaca County Board approved new grievance policies.
Amanda Welch, the county’s human resources director, told supervisors at the board’s Sept. 20 meeting that Act 10 “requires counties to replace grievance procedures that had been settled in contracts with new procedures.”
“All counties, municipalities and school districts have to have new grievance policies in place by Oct. 1,” Welch said.
The new procedures affect all county employees except law enforcement, because the bill that Gov. Scott Walker introduced and signed into law specifically exempts police and firefighters.
Under the state law, county employees are now only allowed to file grievances in response to three issues: workplace safety, discipline and termination.
“All the collective bargaining agreements have a broader range of grievances,” Welch said. Previously, county workers could file grievances on issues ranging from scheduling, overtime, wages and work conditions.
Under the new state law, county employees can file a grievance if they believe they have been wrongfully terminated. However, layoffs and furlough days are not considered termination subject to the grievance procedure.
Under the county’s new procedures, the human resources director supervises the grievance process.
The first step requires that employees present a written grievance to their immediate supervisor within 10 days of the decision or event that caused the grievance.
The supervisor then has 10 days to respond in writing, and a copy of the response must be forwarded to the human resources director.
If the employee believes the supervisor’s response is not satisfactory, the grievance may then move to the second step and be forwarded to the department head within five days. The department head, or a representative, will then meet with the employee to resolve the issues raised by the grievance. The department head must respond in writing within 10 days.
If employees remain dissatisfied after meeting with the department head, they can move to a third step in the process by submitting a written statement to the human resources director. At this step, county employees are required to pay $50 when submitting their grievance.
Welch said the filing fee is to help cover the costs of an impartial hearing officer (IHO), who will be appointed by the county’s Human Resources Committee.
At the Sept. 20 meeting, Supervisor DuWayne Federwitz asked Welch why the county was not requiring employees to pay half the costs involved in bringing an IHO into the process.
“The Wisconsin Counties Association felt that for the grievance procedure to hold up in court, it must be accessible to employees. Too many hurdles or costs would deter employees from filing grievances,” Welch said, noting that a county could select an IHO that is so expensive the employee could not afford the grievance process.
“By putting in the $50 filing fee, it’s a nominal cost, it covers some of our costs and it may cause the employee to think about whether it’s worth it to file a grievance,” Welch said.
The IHO will have the authority to convene a hearing, take testimony under oath, issue subpoenas and require the parties to submit documents and witness lists prior to the hearing. The IHO will only have the authority to decide on the specific grievance and have no power to amend or strike any provision in the county’s personnel policies.
Within 10 days of the IHO releasing a written decision, either party may appeal that decision to the Waupaca County Board.
“The law gives the employee the right to appeal the grievance before the highest level of the governing body,” Welch said.
The county board has 30 days from receiving the notice of appeal to schedule a review of the IHO’s decision. The board will conduct its review in closed session, unless the employee requests an open session.
A simple majority vote by the county board supervisors will decide the appeal and be binding on all parties.