WPPA

State Agency Issues Ruling That Compromises the Ability of Law Enforcement Officers to Negotiate and Receive Health Insurance

July 7, 2022

NOTICE TO WPPA MEMBERS:

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. 

The WERC’s latest decision stems from an unnecessary grievance over a separate health insurance issue that was filed in 2020 by the Racine firefighters union under the advice of Attorney Christopher MacGillis of MacGillis Weimer, LLC, a personal injury law firm located in Wauwatosa. In the written opinion that decided that grievance, which the firefighters and MacGillis lost, the arbitrator made a comment that had no bearing on the decision in that case — that retiree health insurance was a prohibited subject of bargaining. That comment (often referred to as “dicta”) opened the door for the City of Racine to file for a declaratory ruling asking the WERC to formally decide that it is unlawful for public safety unions to negotiate over retiree health insurance. The City did just that and initiated litigation against both the Racine fire and police unions in February of 2021. The WPPA argued on behalf of the Racine Police Association. 

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 WPPA believes that this decision is completely unfounded. The statutes clearly state that public safety unions have the right to bargain over the employee premium contributions associated with health insurance. While employers do possess a great deal of authority relative to health insurance, the statute presupposes its existence. The WERC’s decision in this matter does what lawmakers could have done in 2011 but did not do, which was explicitly eliminate health insurance as a subject matter over which public safety unions can bargain with their employers. The WERC’s sweeping proclamation cannot be allowed to stand, and rest assured the WPPA will appeal this horrendous decision to the fullest extent of the law. In fact, today the WPPA is filing its appeal 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.

Please stay tuned for additional developments regarding this matter and our efforts to aggressively combat it. Members with questions are invited to contact WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer at palmer@wppa.com.