Gov. Scott Walker has reassured Wisconsin's unionized public sector workers that they will be well protected by civil service laws if he succeeds in stripping them of most collective bargaining rights.

But union contracts typically cover more topics and issues than the civil service system does, said Peter Davis, general counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which administers civil service laws.

Under civil service law, state employees are able to appeal major issues such as termination, demotion or disputes over pay classifications to the commission, which acts as an impartial third party, Davis said.

Walker said Thursday those protections are adequate.

"The bottom line is that's the protection that workers have that's the most important in the state of Wisconsin," Walker said. "It was there long before collective bargaining, it'll be there long after."

But if Walker's budget repair bill passes, thousands of unionized state employees would lose their contractual rights to go to a neutral arbitrator with disputes about matters such as overtime and vacation scheduling, work rules and lower-level discipline such as reprimands. Those would be decided by a manager, Davis said.

School and local government workers would no longer be able to appeal to impartial arbitrators chosen jointly by the employer and the union under contract provisions. Instead, the employer would have ultimate authority, Davis said.

Few municipalities and no Wisconsin school boards have civil service ordinances, said Andrew Phillips, a lawyer for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

The budget repair bill requires establishment of local grievance procedures for appeals of terminations, discipline and workplace safety for those without civil service laws. An impartial hearing officer would be part of the process, but the final decision would belong to the highest governing body for the jurisdiction - typically a school board, city council or county board, Phillips said.

Currently, unions often negotiate work rules in contracts that are specific to widely varied workplaces such as prisons, Department of Natural Resources offices and schools, while civil service rules are "one size fits all," said UW-Madison emeritus professor Dennis Dresang.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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