Protesters who braved a thunderstorm Tuesday night were disappointed after the Waukesha County Board approved a resolution, 19 to 3, supporting state legislation that eliminates collective bargaining for employees' benefits.
The protesters — teachers, social workers, private citizens, members of various unions and at least one police officer — met outside the courthouse and marched along Moreland Boulevard in the cold, driving rain for about a half an hour prior to the County Board meeting.
Inside the courthouse and after being cleared by security, more than 100 people filled the county board room.
In the board room, the crowd was quiet until after the board approved the resolution. After that happened, most of the audience got up to leave, prompted by one man saying, “Let’s all walk. Let’s take a stroll.”
On the way out, another man said, “Shame, shame, shame. You heard everybody speak here and you just ignored all of them.” County Board Chairman Jim Dwyer informed him he was out of order.
Earlier in the evening, Dwyer began the meeting by explaining that each speaker would have two minutes to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting and that clapping, cheering, booing or making noise would not be tolerated.
All except one of the audience members who addressed the board spoke against the resolution.
The first member to speak was Joel Gaughan from SOPHIA, an interfaith organization that addresses social injustices in Waukesha County.
Gaughan said that the organization's concerns echo those of faith and religious leaders like Catholic Archbishop Listecki, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Bishop Burnside, Rabbi Biatch and Methodist Bishop Lee who have spoken out against the policy changes.
He asked county board supervisors to encourage the state legislature to develop a budget bill that will be more friendly to those whose lives are most affected by things like BadgerCare, public schools and transportation and other locally-provided services.
“All of our various faith traditions teach that the measure of a society is based on how we treat the most vulnerable in the community,” Gaughan said, adding that they believe in the ideal of shared sacrifice for the good of the community.
Terry Ullsperger, from Menomonee Falls, told the board he was concerned that that the proposed budget repair bill restricts the county’s ability to raise taxes to balance the county’s budget.
He said that the county’s budget would “end up being balanced on the backs of the working people,” with the result being that “we’re going to lose community services.
“I’d rather pay more taxes than lose the services we have now,” Ullsperger said.
Linda Senger, a social worker for Waukesha County, said as state expectations for her profession continue to rise, they are expected to do more with less. She’s concerned about the workers but also the people she works with in the community, the poor and the working poor.
“If those benefits are stripped from the people we work with, I predict we’re going to see an increase in foster care rates and it’ll come back as a fiscal matter for this county,” she said.
Waukesha resident Tom Merschdorf, the only member of the audience to speak in favor of the resolution, commended the board for proposing it.
He said that as someone who works in the private sector, he’s been sacrificing for a number of years now, experiencing rising insurance costs and the elimination of his pension, and it seems that his friends in the public sector haven’t been sacrificing as much.
“Just because I’m not a public employee doesn’t mean I’m not a member of the working class,” he said. We’re “getting one side of the story here and I think that’s a shame.”
New Berlin resident John Hebert, a county employee, said that the budget repair bill is going to make “Main Street bleed.”
He said that in his case it will cost him $400 a month. He hypothesized that if the average cost to a public sector employee is $300 a month and there are 300,000 public sector employees in the state of Wisconsin, per year $1.8 billion would be pulled out of the state’s economy.
County Board Supervisor Pat Haukohl, of Brookfield, said when the executive committee first considered the resolution, much discussion centered on the budget repair bill, the impact of which was unknown at the time.
Haukohl said that she can’t support the entire budget repair bill, as the resolution originally read, because she thinks some of the effects “are very negative on our state.”
However, she said she believes there “needs to be some control on collective bargaining.”
“I do endorse our employees.… I do believe that we as a county will continue to work with you to work through all the problems and issues,” Haukohl said.
County Board Supervisor Robert Hutton, of Sussex, proposed an amendment to the original resolution, changing the parts that reference “Governor Walker’s budget repair bill” to “state legislation.”
He said that in proposing this resolution, there was not wholesale support for the budget repair bill. He said there was great concern among the board about how they are going to protect county services.
“It would pain me to see us as a county having a very difficult time fulfilling programs that many of our residents have come to depend on in this county,” he said, noting there will be some tough decisions in coming months.
County Board Supervisor Duane Paulson spoke against approving the resolution, acknowledging that he has been in leadership position in public and private unions. He proposed that the board table the resolution, but that vote failed.