County layoffs protested

Liz Challice

Employees scheduled for the layoff were notified three weeks ago that they would no longer be employed as of Friday.

The unions hit hardest were Local 882, the largest union in Milwaukee County, which includes Milwaukee County Parks, Highway, Fleet Maintenance, Airport and Zoo departments’ employees, as well as Local 645, which includes Milwaukee County Professional Social Services and Human Service employees.

The Parks Department of Milwaukee County presides over 140 parks and parkways, and sites like the Milwaukee County Zoo, Mitchell Park Domes, McKinley Marina and Botanical Gardens. All will be affected — either through neglect or privatization — if the County Board approves County Executive Scott Walker’s budget plan Sept. 18.

Walker faced a $4 million deficit in planning the budget this year. Protesters at Tuesday’s demonstration said the budget was accommodating the “privatization” of the parks system. They also say Walker has not listened to departmental input and that balancing the budget by cutting employees from understaffed departments will put such a strain for services that privatization will seem the only way to go.

However, these employees do not agree.

“County workers can do the same work as privateers, but for less money than what the county would have to pay contractors,” said Rosemarie McDowell, president of Local Union 1055. “This means we can conserve in the long run, but only if we balance out the budget.”

Rally speaker Evelyn Nix disagreed with Walker’s claim that privatization “might cost less.” Nix said “contracts themselves cost money.”

Paul Grimyser, a park maintenance employee, said if Park Department staff is cut, it will allow the parks to get so overgrown and unkempt that privatization would be welcomed. But he also pointed out long-run disadvantages, including McKinley Beach not having lifeguards this summer.

“The county would be liable for accidents which would cost more than staffing,” Grimyser said.

Employees feel that “the lean” (wage-earners) is being cut to save “the fat” (middle management). For the 270 employees being let go, only 10 managers were laid off.