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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 2, 2011

Conservative group says Wisconsin state employees paid to bring lunch to work

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed freezing state employee pay for two years, a conservative think tank pointed out that his plan also eliminates what it called abuse of overtime and "odd" types of other employee compensation.

The Madison-based MacIver Institute weighed in with an online video posted Oct. 25, 2011, the same day the proposal was released. The institute noted, for example, that Department of Corrections employees would no longer be allowed to call in sick for one shift, then work the shift immediately following on overtime.

That practice had been revealed more than three years earlier by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But the institute also made a claim in the video we hadn’t heard:

"Other odd provisions in the old contracts gave some employees $4 for bringing in their own lunch."

A $4 reimbursement might not seem like much -- but state employees being paid to bring their lunch to work? Who? And how many?

We decided to take a look.

The MacIver Institute, on the day it released its video, also posted an article about Walker’s pay-freeze plan. The article elaborated on the $4 lunch claim, saying the plan would eliminate a provision in one contract that allows police communications operators to be reimbursed $4 if they work through their lunch period.

We asked MacIver Institute spokesman Brian Fraley if he had any evidence to back up the claim. He cited the state’s 2008-2009 contract with the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association union.

The contract says police communications operators who work shifts of eight hours or longer "without relief for a meal break are eligible for a $4 bag meal."  

Let’s flesh this out a bit.

The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association represents several hundred employees of the State Patrol, the Capitol Police and the police departments that serve University of Wisconsin System campuses, said the union’s president, Tracy Fuller. Police communications operators are dispatchers who work for the State Patrol, he said.

The "bag lunch" reference in the contract simply indicates that when dispatchers have to bring a lunch to eat while remaining on the job through their lunch period, they are reimbursed $4, Fuller said. The provision enables managers to ensure that dispatch staffing has no gaps, especially if a dispatcher has to work longer than expected due to an incident, he said.

The reimbursement applies to about 50 or 60 dispatchers and the $4 rate hasn’t been changed since the provision was added to their contract about eight years ago, Fuller said.

We asked state Department of Administration spokesman Tim Lundquist how much the state spends per year on the $4  lunch reimbursement, but he said figures weren’t available. He said that even though the contract that covers the dispatchers has expired, provisions such as the lunch reimbursement have remained in place and will remain until a new pay plan is adopted.

If adopted by the Legislature’s GOP-controlled Joint Committee on Employment Relations, likely in early to mid-November, Walker’s pay plan would take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Our conclusion

The MacIver Institute said Walker’s pay proposal would eliminate various state employee contract provisions, including one that "gave some employees $4 for bringing in their own lunch."

State dispatchers don’t get $4 just for bringing a lunch to work; the reimbursement applies only when they are required to eat while continuing to work through their lunch period.

The statement was accurate but needed some clarification. We rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources, MacIver Institute "First post-reform comp plan issued" video, Oct. 25, 2011

MacIver Institute, "Post-reform compensation plan ushers in new era, new savings," Oct. 25, 2011

Email interview, MacIver Institute communications director Brian Fraley, Oct. 27, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Plan would freeze state workers’ wages for two years," Oct. 25, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Guards use sick days to inflate salary," May 4, 2008

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, Oct. 25, 2011

Email interview, Wisconsin Department of Administration communications officer
Tim Lundquist, Oct. 27, 2011

Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations, Compensation plan toolkit

Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations, state’s 2008-2009 contract with Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association

Interview, Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association president Tracy Fuller, Oct. 28, 2011, "Compensation plan media briefing," Oct. 25, 2011

Interview, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald spokesman John Jagler, Oct. 28, 2011

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More by Tom Kertscher

Conservative group says Wisconsin state employees paid to bring lunch to work

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