Matters of Importance

Steve Urso, Interim Executive Director- Over the past few weeks, a number of questions on matters of importance to members have been asked and, instead of just providing individuals with responses, we thought it  may be helpful if we responded in a way for all of you to see what is being asked and what our answers are. 

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Recently, a number of persons have contacted the KEA concerning their rights under the FMLA. I would suggest that anyone who has questions should contact us, and they can also check out the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division Website: www.dwd.state.wi.us/er/ and then click on Family and Medical Leave, which includes a site were forms can be found and instructions provided for filing a complaint. Below are some of the recent questions being asked by members and the answers.

Q. 1. – Are teachers treated differently than other employees under the Federal FMLA ?

Answer – Yes. The Federal law has special rules applicable only to instructional employees. Those rules allow a District to temporarily transfer a teacher who takes intermittent leave to a non-instructional position. They also allow a school district to require a teacher to extend FMLA leave to the end of a school term if the leave would otherwise be close to the end of that term.

Q.2. – Can the employer force an employee to substitute one type of paid leave over another?

Answer – Wisconsin law allows the employee to choose whether to substitute leave. The employer may not require an employee to substitute leave. Federal law allows the employer to require the employee to use accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave, for some or all of the FMLA leave period.

Q. 3. – What information can an employer require of an employee taking FMLA?

Answer – No employer may require certification stating more than (1) that the employee or family member has a serious health condition: (2) the commencement and probable duration of condition: (3) the medical facts regarding the serious health condition; and (4) if the request is for the employee’s medical condition, an explanation of the extent to which the employee is unable to perform employment duties. The employer may also require the employee to obtain an opinion from a second health care provider, chosen and paid for by the employer.

Q. 4. – If the employee is not asking for leave under the law, can the employer nonetheless count time off as FMLA leave?

Answer – Yes, the Federal law allows an employer to designate any leave taken by an employee for reasons covered by Federal FMLA. Therefore, if an employer determines an employee’s three-day absence is for a qualifying serious health condition, they can deduct it from the 12 week allotment.

The Wisconsin State Budget

By now you have probably read the newspaper articles on the proposed budget of Governor Walker. We want to discuss with you his approach to fixing another budget mess and address what we think needs to happen.

Our Governor knows we do not have local communities with taxing authority, so Wisconsin is heavily dependent on property taxes collected by local government and paid to the state to pay for public services, such as police, fire, schools and local government. We also have a lesser sales tax than Illinois or Michigan and we have no toll roads to create dollars for services. Nevertheless, the Governor is determined to lower property taxes and cited that as what he has heard from voters.  So this creates a situation in which people have to choose what to cut and how deeply, much like, when you go to the market, you must decide whether you buy a brand name or a generic store produced product.

Historically, the biggest costs for the state have been school aids, the UW System, local government, public assistance and prisons. Unlike when you are at the market, it is harder to cut any of these without it impacting other people. Nevertheless, in 2011, Walker began his attack on property tax increases by cutting schools by over $1 billion, freezing revenue limits and downsizing state government. He then went after taxes on businesses and reduced them by $2 billion. In addition, he continued road projects that were not fully funded when passed during a prior administration. So, our reality today is that we have a deficit and, this time, going after public employee wages and benefits will not close the gap. Further, if he cuts local government, he cuts services like police/fire, trash pick-up, buses and water and sewer. Again, that is a really bad idea and is likely to hurt people. Also, it’s a really bad idea to reduce appropriations to prisons, considering the high incarceration rate we have for a state our size, and the number of people we incarcerate who are mentally ill and will have no place to go upon release. So, what is left is cutting the UW System and public assistance, and that is what he has proposed to do.

He chose, however, not to stop there. Now, here comes his new education proposal which, on top of the cuts from 2011 and the stagnation in state payments to schools going forward (no increase in the revenue limit for public schools), means schools will continue to have to operate with a couple hundred million dollars less than what schools need to keep operations at the 2014 level. Additionally, add to that the expansion of vouchers, the throwing out of the new state standardized achievement exam aligned with Common Core, and the reduced requirements for teacher certification, and we have an upside-down education system.

Depressing is an understatement, but here is what we need to keep in mind: YOU SIMPLY CANNOT CUT YOUR WAY TO PROSPERITY. The failure of the Governor to understand basic economic principles is numbing and disheartening. Instead of worrying about how much something costs, he needs to consider how spending money can make more money! Whether you agree is not really the issue; the issue is that his austerity policy has not produced a financial return on which we can depend going forward. What we need is to spend more on our roads, bridges, public utilities, the internet and anything else you can think of that will provide a solid return on our investment. At the heart of the problem is that we have lost our way and continue to be held hostage by small minds with small ideas.