Wisconsin Spotlight | May 19, 2020
MADISON — As thousands of Wisconsinites locked out of work go without unemployment benefits, the Evers administration recently tried to sneak through a rule that pays some state employees for not working.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Administration Division of Personnel Management notified the Legislature that Gov. Tony Evers had approved the emergency rule for limited term employees (LTEs). It creates a new limited exception that allows state agencies to approve LTEs to stay at home without working and without loss of pay during the pandemic.
“For the exception to apply, the reason for absence must specifically be related to the pandemic, such as a situation where the employee’s continued presence at the worksite compromises the safety or security of the employee, other persons, the public or the worksite.”
State Sen. Van Wanggaard’s office first caught the rule change.
“We have people begging to go back to work, and employers begging people to work for them,” said Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) in a statement. “Governor Evers just released an emergency rule paying people for literally doing nothing. This isn’t work from home. That would be one thing, and understandable. This is don’t work from home, don’t go to your job site, don’t worry – we’ll still pay you.”
The rule also provides pandemic-related benefits to state employees, such as sick time for public workers who contract COVID-19. The emergency rule creates a new limited exception that allows employees to use sick leave for the care of individuals … “regardless of whether they are sick or not.” LTEs can do so “for the necessary period of time” without receiving prior approval. So the government employees can use sick leave if they can’t find child care because of a school closure during the pandemic.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people waiting for phone calls from unemployment, and countless more who can’t even get through,” Wanggaard said. “There is a need for these workers. Sending them home with pay is insulting to every one of those unemployed workers.”
Scott Kelly, the senator’s chief of staff, says the office has heard from constituents who filed for unemployment nine weeks ago and have yet to hear anything from the Department of Workforce Development.
“We have had people who waited 2 1/2 hours on hold before being told they should call back later because all of the lines were busy,” Kelly said.
State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) in a recent letter to DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman noted the disconnect in the administration.
Nygren said DWD should immediately extend call center hours to speed up the processing of UI claims. It seems unreasonable, he said, that DWD officials still were working an eight-hour day. In this time of crisis, the lawmaker said, it’s not asking too much to staff the center 16 hours a day, using state employees in other departments not nearly as stressed to assist — many who are not working at all.
He noted that the Evers administration’s emergency rule change allowing certain Limited-term Employees to collect full pay while not working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I ask you to request Governor Evers use his authority in Act 185 to transfer LTEs that are being paid for not working to DWD to help process UI claims,” Nygren wrote. “It is insulting to unemployed Wisconsinites that Governor Evers and his administration are prioritizing state employees who are not working over the processing of UI claims.”
Worse yet, Wanggaard said, is the sneaky way the administration announced the new rules — at 4:44 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. He called on the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to suspend the rule “as soon as possible.”