Wisconsin: Union Operatives’ Salaries Raise Eyebrows in Capitol

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service

Government employee unions’ class warfare rhetoric seems out of place coming from the top union brass.

The MacIver News Service has examined hundreds of pages of public records available through the U.S. Department of Labor and via the online search site Guidestar and found that many of the most prominent union advocates in the state make well in excess of $100,000 a year in salary alone.

For example, Marty Beil, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME )Council 24 SEPAC, made $161,847 in 2008 according to the organization’s Form 990. That’s considerably more than the $144,423 a year Scott Walker makes as Wisconsin’s Governor.

Despite this, Beil has repeatedly attempted to portray Walker as a member of some upper class elite. In December, Beil said Walker’s treatment of state employees was like “the plantation owner talking to the slaves.”

“We’ve moved in Walker’s mentality from public service to public servitude,” Beil said.

Beil also blogged on January 7, 2011, “folks attending the inauguration inside were well clad in their minks, sables, and $1000 suits. During the inauguration, the general public was locked out of their Capitol, which was only accessible through invitation or ticket. A fine example for Scott Walker – governor of the ‘people’.”

The heated rhetoric is not sitting well with some lawmakers in Madison.

“I don’t begrudge anyone an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and the market determines your value,” said Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha). “But it’s pretty hypocritical to whine about being treated like a slave when you pull down well over 100-grand a year.”

Beil is not the only public sector union leader to be making a six-figure salary, the MacIver News Servicediscovered. Even his assistant director at AFSME 24 SEPAC, Jana Weaver, made $138,553. In fact, all six full time AFSCME 24 SEPAC employees make six-figure salaries.

The AFSCME Wisconsin State Council, which occupies the same building as SEPAC at 8033 Excelsior Drive in Madison, also has a good number of employees with near six-figure salaries. According to the union’s 2009 LM-2, filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, 16 field representatives make more than $90,000 annually.

Richard Abelson, Executive Director of ASCFME Council 48 in Milwaukee, has in the past accused Walker of stopping the ratification of pending state employee contracts in December, even though the then governor-elect had not yet taken the oath of office.

“Walker’s contempt for working people is boundless,” Abelson wrote in his blog, Direct Talk. “In ‘Scott Walker World,’ there is no CEO who makes enough money and no working person who deserves what he/she earns.”

Abelson made $106,122 in salary in 2009, according to the union’s LM-2.

Since the Democratic-controlled State Senate shot down the state employee contracts in December 2010, the public sector unions have been trying to pressure Governor Walker to reopen negotiations.

Union leaders suspect state employees will be adversely affected by the soon-to-be-introduced budget repair bill, by which Walker will address the state’s $145 million deficit.

“Public employee unions are a creature of state law and there might be consideration of changing that state law to empower the taxpayers of the Wisconsin,” Walker said in December. “We are exploring every option out there.”

The union leaders are pressing for details.

“It’s time for Gov. Walker to discuss shared sacrifice with the dedicated public employees who will make those sacrifices,” said Bryan Kennedy President of AFT-WI, a state government employee union that is a part of the AFL-CIO.

Kennedy wrote a letter to Walker in December in which he said, “No one goes into public service in this state to get rich; rather, we are committed to the public we serve.”

Walker Administration officials have said that requiring state employees to contribute five percent to their pensions and pay twelve percent of their health insurance premiums would save the state tens of millions in the remaining months of the current budget alone. The Governor is expected to unveil his stop-gap budget repair bill within days.

“Our upcoming budget is built on the premise that we must right size our government,” Walker in his State of the State address earlier this month. “That means reforming public employee benefits — as well as reforming entitlement programs and reforming the state’s relationships with local governments.”

In responding to that speech Kennedy said, “Public employees will continue to sacrifice to help with budget woes, but our sacrifices have already been considerable – we are now doing more with less than any time in recent history.”

Kennedy drew a salary of $129,402 in 2008, according to the organization’s tax documents.

To be sure, the labor union wages are not reflective of all state employees. In fact, more than ninety seven percent of state employees (excluding the UW system) make less than $100,000.

The union bosses’ salaries do put them head and shoulders above the average Wisconsinite and the rank and file workers whose plights they regularly bemoan, however.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s median individual income for 2009 was $39,718, meanwhile the median wage for state employees was $45,599 according to an analysis of data provided by the Department of Administration.

When benefits are included, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reports the average state employee total compensation in 2008 was valued at $71,000; still only around half of what some labor leaders make in salary alone.

Selected Salaries of Labor Union Leaders

Source: U.S. Department of Labor and Guidestar 2008, 2009
Union Operatives’ Salaries Raise Eyebrows in Capitol | MacIver Institute

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