THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Mattison Not Admonished By District Appeals Court
It was incorrectly reported in the Peshtigo Times issue of Wednesday, Feb. 12, that Marinette County Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison was one of the attorneys admonished by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in the case of the Marinette County Professional Employees Union versus Marinette County.
According to Mattison, Marinette County was represented by the outside counsel of Attorneys Andrew T. Phillips and Patrick Casey Henneger of Mequon.
The Court of Appeals admonished Marinette County and the two attorneys who represented it at the appeals court level for attempting to mislead us. The case was over interpretation of how a contract extension was handled.
An arbitrator ruled in favor of the union, extending the contract for another year as listed in the contract of Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2011. A clause in the contract stated it would remain in full force from year to year unless either party gives written notice to the other prior to June 1, 2011.
The county contended that the automatic extension could not occur because of a state law prohibiting union contracts for more than three years.
The matter first went to a hearing before an arbitrator, Lauri A. Millot of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission who issued an 11 page history of the case. A hearing was held on March 28, 2012 and Mattison represented Marinette County and John Spiegelhoff the union. Both parties submitted briefs and reply briefs the last which was received on May 14, 2012.
Background of the issue was the budget state budget repair bill (Act 10) introduced Feb. 11, 2011 by Gov. Scott Walker which among provisions would eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for most non-protective public sector employees.
According to the report of the arbitrator both parties in a time of confusion as to what, if anything would follow expiration of the 2010-11 contract. A telephone call was made on March 11, 2011 to Marinette County Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger from Randall Etten , union staff representatives. He left a voice mail message inquiring if Marinette County was interested to meet and confer about extending the labor agreement a couple years and indicated that a wage freeze and WRS concessions would be possible.
Holtger responded with an email on March 14 that Marinette County was not in a position to discuss collective bargaining at this time.
On July 18, 2011 Etten wrote Holtger that the union believed the labor agreement had automatically renewed itself, based on an article in the agreement that unless either party notifies the other party in writing that they desire to alter or amend the agreement by June 1 in the last year of the existing agreement. It was Ettens understanding that neither party requested to reopen the agreement of Jan. 1. 2009 to Dec. 31, 2011 prior to June 1, 2011. Therefore the agreement was automatically extended under the same terms and conditions through Dec. 31, 2012.
Marinette County disagreed and on Aug. 23, 2011 sent Etten an email that the county declines to extend the agreements. On Sept. 5, 2011, the union filed a grievance and the matter then went to arbitration.
On Aug. 10, 2012, arbitrator Lauri A. Millot ruled in favor of the union that the contract automatically renewed for calendar year 2012.
On June 6, 2013 at the Executive Committee of the Marinette County Board of Supervisors meeting, a portion was closed to the public.
In addition to committee members, Mattison and County Administrator Ellen Sorensen were present for that closed session. Under provisions of Wisconsins Open Meetings laws, closed sessions are permitted for conferring with legal counsel on legal strategies.
Following the closed session, the Executive Committee authorized Mattison to hire an outside attorney to pursue legal action in the case in an amount not to exceed $15,000.
The case then went before Marinette County Circuit Court Judge David Miron who at a hearing on May 24, 2013 granted a motion to confirm the arbitration award. Present in court representing Marinette County for that hearing were Phillips and Mattison. Representing the union was Halstead.
On June 3, 2013 Judge Miron issued an order confirmation the arbitration award and denying the Marinette County motion to vacate or modify the arbitration award.
On July 16, 2013 Marinette County filed a notice of appeal which went to the 3rd District Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court on Tuesday, Feb. 11 filed their decision denying the Marinette County appeal and affirming the decision of Judge Miron and admonishing the county attorneys.
On Feb. 11, 2014 the law firm representing the union in both circuit court and court of appeals posted a notice on their web site that the union had won. The union attorneys were Aaron Halstead and Colin Good of Madison. Their message also pointed out that union leaders estimated the courts decision preserved well in excess of $100,000 in retirement benefits for its members which Marinette County sought to escape paying by appealing the arbitrators award.