UPSETTING THE STATUS QUO
The law restricts public-sector bargaining to wages. Benefits won't be bargained, and neither will work rules. The latter is important, says Vrakas, because having to bargain for any change in how the county's work is done makes it hard to do the work better.
For instance, his highway department has been trying to offer an alternative schedule to employees who want it: Four days a week of 10 hours each. Some employees would welcome a longer weekend, and highway work could use longer shifts, Vrakas says. Until now, it couldn't happen: "The collective bargaining agreement was very inflexible."
And when he and leaders in Milwaukee and Racine counties looked at some joint management of bus fleets, "right away, the unions (said), 'No, we can't do that.' "..
If courts overturn the law, "we'd have to do some real soul-searching as to what our core services are," said Vrakas. Funding the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha would be hard, he said. Justice programs that mean the county sends few young offenders to state reformatories? He doesn't want them to vanish, he said, but they might.
But more than that, the county's relations with employees would remain formal and channeled through a third party with an interest in keeping them adversarial - those being the conditions that most make workers value a union. A third of Vrakas' staff, the non-unionized part, is already in a pay-for-performance plan, where workers and bosses jointly figure out goals.
It's a set-up that's common in the private sector and that gives workers more control. Until now, public unions have resisted it.
"I'm not sure the collective bargaining laws provide for a lot of cooperation," said Vrakas. "They kind of provide for a status quo."