WPPA Scores Major Court Victory
Circuit Court Grants WPPA Request and Issues Order That WERC Health Insurance Decision Cannot Be Enforced During Appeal
May 4, 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. The very next day, the WPPA 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.
On May 4, 2023, the circuit court granted that request. This is 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. Today’s decision rightfully preserves the retiree health insurance language that many employers have agreed to provide over the years, and it is an outstanding example of the WPPA’s ability to act swiftly and decisively to protect its members interests.
The WERC’s July 6 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.
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 email@example.com.