WPPA Scores Huge Legislative Win!
Bill to Repair WERC Decision in Racine Headed to Gov. Evers!
Update: The bill was signed by Governor Evers October 25.
October 18, 2023
On July 6, 2022, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) issued a decision dealing with retiree health insurance in Racine that impacts the rights and benefits afforded to law enforcement officers and firefighters throughout the state. Not only did the WERC declare that retiree health insurance is a prohibited subject of bargaining, it concluded the same for contractual provisions dealing with dependent and survivor health care as well. Most disturbingly, the Commission reached that conclusion by ruling that a public employer has no duty to bargain over the existence of a health insurance plan. In other words, according to the WERC, since employers have the unilateral authority to determine the design of health insurance plans under statutory changes made a decade ago by Gov. Walker and the legislature, they can freely decide not to provide insurance at all. The WERC further reasoned that if an employer decides to provide health insurance, only then do they have a legal obligation to bargain over the employees’ share of the costs of the premiums of that health insurance.
The day after the WERC issued its ruling, the WPPA immediately filed an appeal of the decision with the circuit court in Dane County, along with a request that the court issue an order to prevent the WERC decision from being enforced until such time as our appeal can be decided. After nearly a year of oral arguments and briefs on the matter, the Dane County Circuit Court granted our request to stay the WERC's decision until the court rendered a determination on its legality. While that process remains ongoing, this was an enormous victory for law enforcement officers throughout the state that are working under contracts that provide for retiree health insurance—especially officers on the cusp of retirement.
Simultaneous with our efforts to wage a legal challenge to the WERC decision, the WPPA worked with lawmakers and other interested stakeholders to get legislation proposed to correct and overrule the WERC decision. On March 8, 2023, that bill was formally introduced. Specifically, this bill clarifies the existing statute regarding health care plans for public safety employees by specifying that the existence of health care coverage, and who is covered by that coverage, is subject to bargaining between a municipality and public safety employees.
Yesterday, the legislature formally approved that measure, which now heads to Gov. Tony Evers for his signature. Not only will this new enactment likely end the ongoing litigation involving the case in Racine, it will also effectively prevent other employers from trying to strip law enforcement officers and other public safety employees of the retirement health insurance that they've bargained to maintain for many years.
This entire ordeal is an outstanding example of the WPPA’s ability to act swiftly and decisively to protect its members' interests in multiple fronts. While the horrendous decision arising out of Racine stemmed from the strategic bungling of the law firm that represents the local fire fighters in Racine, the WPPA led both the legal challenge and the legislative action needed to correct it.
I will continue to keep you apprised as to when this new law will go into effect, but this is a proud day for our organization and our collective ability to represent Wisconsin's law enforcement community.
To the extent that anyone has any questions regarding this outstanding development, please do not hesitate to contact me.