Milwaukee County looks to spend hundreds of thousands more for janitors
By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — An effort to bring back about 20 unemployed public-sector janitors to reclaim cleaning services at the Milwaukee County Courthouse is now projected to cost taxpayers an additional $630,000 a year.
SPENDING SPREE: The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is being asked to create unneeded public-sector janitorial positions that will cost taxpayers more than $600,000 a year.
Because of labor union and civil service rules, the housekeepers laid off in late 2009 when the county privatized its janitorial operations must compete with other eligible hires, should the county board pass Supervisor John Weishan Jr.’s resolution.
Weishan, who did not return several calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment, originally proposed rehiring the janitors. About 20 have been unable to find gainful jobs.
“I believe that they were wronged as county employees,” Weishan said last Thursday at a Finance, Audit and Personnel Committee meeting. “I believe that the first step in rectifying that is to create the positions, and then it’s up to them to do what they can to exercise their legal rights to get employment within Milwaukee County.”
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the resolution Thursday, according to Brendan Conway, spokesman for County Executive Chris Abele.
The legislation calls for the county to end its month-to-month, $424,884 annual contract with MidAmerican Building Services, a private West Allis firm that maintains the courthouse complex.
The county then would create 21 new public-sector positions at an annual cost of nearly $1.1 million, according to a substitute fiscal note prepared by Stephen Cady, director of research services for the Milwaukee County Comptroller’s Office.
Cady’s initial fiscal study, released Jan. 15, put the additional expenses in 2015 at $556,786. But that figure has since increased to $630,925. It originally failed to include salaries and benefits for housekeeping supervisors, Cady told Wisconsin Reporter.
The total cost for each janitor in 2015 would be $46,668, including benefits.
The former government housekeepers are no longer on a county job recall list because deadlines set in both the 2007-08 American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees District Council 48 contract and general county civil service rules have passed, Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren told the Finance, Audit and Personnel Committee in a March 5 letter.
“Those former workers would need to compete with other applicants for these civil service positions,” Bargren says in the memo. “More broadly, the positions would be subject to normal public announcement and application processes, so that anyone otherwise qualified would be considered ‘based solely on merit and fitness.’”
Still, the committee has forged ahead, approving an amended version of the resolution March 13 that designates county employees as the providers of housekeeping services at the courthouse building. Supervisors David Bowen, David Cullen, Jason Haas, Willie Johnson Jr., Peggy Romo West and Russell Stamper II voted in favor.
FEELING UNEASY: Supervisor James Schmitt questions the need for a proposed resolution that cannot guarantee former county employees will be rehired to clean the county courthouse.
Supervisor Jim “Luigi” Schmitt, one of three committee members voting in opposition, told Wisconsin Reporter he’s worried the higher pay could drastically affect the county’s contingency fund, which generally is used for emergencies.
Schmitt also is questioning the reasoning for a resolution that cannot promise jobs for the janitors the county laid off.
“We all feel bad about people who lose their jobs … but if the intent is to try to help these people who have been out of work, there’s no guarantee that, even if we do this, they will indeed get the jobs,” Schmitt said.
Several of the former janitors have told the Finance, Audit and Personnel Committee they’ve been “blacklisted” from getting positions at other county agencies. Others also claim the county no longer has their personnel records on file.
But Rick Ceschin, deputy director of the Milwaukee County Department of Human Resources, notified committee members that he’s not aware of any former county housekeepers being unfairly blocked from other government jobs. He said the county keeps central and departmental files on all employees.
Orville Seymer, field coordinator for Citizens for Responsible Government in Milwaukee, said he’s perplexed as to why taxpayers should have to spend $630,925 more a year for what he deems as identical or inferior services.
Since janitorial operations were privatized in 2010, Seymer, who is at the courthouse about four times a month, said he has noticed the facility is much cleaner.
Seymer also says it’s harder to fire underperforming employees under civil service protection.
“I think the private sector can do a better job, and if that person is not doing their job as they are required to do, it’s much easier to remove them and get somebody new in there that will do the job and wants the job,” Seymer said.
Contact Adam Tobias at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias
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