Ethics complaint filed against union group for role in WI living wage ordinance


By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

COMPLAINT: An ethics complaint was filed Thursday against a union group for making campaign contributions to a Milwaukee County supervisor who helped pass a local living wage ordinance.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — An ethics complaint was filed Thursday against Wisconsin Jobs Now for making campaign contributions to Milwaukee County board members who were instrumental in passing a union-boosting living wage ordinance, sources have told Wisconsin Reporter.

The complaint comes one day after Wisconsin Reporter first reported that county supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and David Bowen and officials with Wisconsin Jobs Now and the Service Employees International Union may have violated the county’s code of ethics because of questionable campaign contributions.

The sources who spoke to Wisconsin Reporter wouldn’t release the name of the person who submitted the complaint because of possible legal issues and harassment against that individual.

Robert Tuszynski, interim executive director of the Milwaukee County Ethics Board, wouldn’t say whether a complaint had been submitted to his office.

“I cannot comment one way or another,” Tuszynski told Wisconsin Reporter. “Everything that would or would not have been received by the ethics board would be confidential.”

But an attorney and a number of government officials confirmed with Wisconsin Reporter that a complaint has been filed with the ethics panel.

Dimitrijevic, who cast the final affirmative vote at a February board meeting to ensure a veto-proof majority, was given $200 shortly after the Dec. 16 Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee meeting where the ordinance was first presented for approval.

Those contributions came from Bruce Colburn, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and Peter Rickman, a community organizer for Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Dimitrijevic also received $650 in the months after Bowen announced in early September he would be introducing his living wage proposal later in the year.

Those payments were made by Colburn, Wisconsin Jobs Now Executive Director Jennifer Epps-Addison, SEIU Local 1 and Michael Lauer, former executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Bowen, who wrote the ordinance with help from SEIU-affiliated officials, accepted total contributions of $180 from Colburn, Epps-Addison and Lauer on Oct. 29, nearly two months after his living wage announcement.

The Milwaukee County code of ethics prohibits public officials from accepting anything of value from any person if it reasonably could be considered as a reward or is expected to influence that official’s vote or actions.

Chapter 9.05(2)(k) also states, “No person(s) with a personal financial interest in the approval or denial of a contract or proposal being considered by a county department or with an agency funded and regulated by a county department, shall make a campaign contribution to any county elected official who has approval authority over that contract or proposal during its consideration.”

SEIU and Wisconsin Jobs Now, which is funded by SEIU, could see an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars every year because of a provision in the ordinance that exempts county-contracted firms from paying the $11.32-an-hour living wage, but only if their employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and a bona fide labor union.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 6 passed the ordinance by a veto-proof majority of 12-6.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Democrat, plans to veto the legislation at least 24 hours before the county board’s next meeting March 20, Abele’s spokesman, Brendan Conway, said.

County regulations require board members to consider any vetoes at their next scheduled meeting, but they aren’t legally obligated to approve or deny the executive’s action that same day, Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph J. Czarnezki told Wisconsin Reporter.

The matter could be laid over or referred to committee or legal counsel until the ethics board makes a ruling, according to Czarnezki.

“There’s nothing statutorily that I can find that says the board has to act within any time frame,” Czarnezki said. “So, they can take their time.”

Contact Adam Tobias at or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias

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