By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The village board met in closed session Friday, March 12, when it considered last month’s Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) ruling on two grievances filed by the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA).
WERC arbitrator Raleigh Jones ruled in the union’s favor when he found the village violated the parties’ 2014-19 collective bargain agreement (CBA) because it changed the hourly rate used to pay out accrued retirement benefits to Shawn Wright, who retired in 2019 as a public safety officer (PSO).
The ruling directed the village to pay out Wright’s benefits at a rate of $37.53 per hour when it should have divided his annual salary by 2,080 hours, because his paid time off (PTO) retirement payout was miscalculated when the village divided his annual salary by 2,920 hours.
When Wright retired in 2019, the grievance stated it marked the first time the village made a change to the contract payout calculation for a union member.
Jones said he wasn’t persuaded by the village’s claim it made a mistake in calculating retirement payouts after 2011, when contract language was negotiated for the 2012-13 CBA, and when it wasn’t discovered until 2019.
He said “it’s hard to accept that having (allegedly) specifically bargained in 2011 for a reduction in the hourly rate paid for PTO benefits accrued as a line employee, the village then failed to implement it for eight years due to human error, inattention or ill-equipped software.”
Jones also found the village violated the CBA when it changed the hourly rate it paid PSOs who had not used all their sick time in 2019 and therefore earned additional hours.
His ruling further directed the village to pay all PSOs who elected to receive a payout of accrued sick leave hours from 2019 and converted to vacation hours under the CBA at an hourly rate derived by dividing their annual salaries by 2,080 hours.
The APSOA filed a separate grievance related to the payout in January 2021 of accrued sick leave hours from 2020.
Jones said the practice of paying out accrued retirement benefits and accrued sick leave hours will continue “until it is changed at the bargaining table.”
The APSOA is working under the conditions of its contract which expired Dec. 31, 2019, until a new agreement is reached.
Because the arbitrator’s ruling is binding as the final step of the grievance process under the CBA, Village Manager Joel Gregozeski and the union’s attorney, Aaron Halstead of the Hawks Quindel law firm, informed The Press Times the parties are working to confirm the amount owed following board action to make all payments as directed under the decision.
Gregozeski said the village at this time estimates the total arbitration award to be $10,613, when including Wright’s payout, the grievance for the sick leave payout of 2019 payable in January 2020 and the grievance for the sick leave payout of 2020 payable in January 2021.
The APSOA blamed the change in the contract payout calculations without any bargaining or discussions with the union on former Village Manager Allison Swanson, who was hired in 2011 and resigned last July, five months after the union announced a vote of no confidence in her.
Halstead said the village made the change when a dispute arose in 2019 after Swanson directed the finance department to change the hourly rates for a retiring public safety department supervisor, Lt. Luke Pasterski, who became a battalion chief in De Pere and has a civil lawsuit pending against the village in Brown County Circuit Court.
The Hawks Quindel law firm is also representing Pasterski and former acting chief Tom Rolling, another plaintiff in that pay dispute case.
Swanson last May filed a defamation lawsuit still pending in circuit court against the APSOA and two of its members, President Eric Paulowski and Secretary Melanie Lovato.