Gov. Scott Walker ran for election on a promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office.
Now it seems some of that job growth has found its way to at least one county jail in Wisconsin.
Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig told several http://www.journaltimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_97bd5d58-a243-11e0-b2f9-001cc4c002e0.html#ixzz1QfPqQxvR"> media outlets earlier this week he plans to add shoveling, landscaping and painting to the to-do lists of county inmates. Until recently, inmates were only allowed to cut the grass along highways.
That changed Wednesday when the state's controversial collective bargaining law took effect.
Besides losing their right to negotiate over the percentage of their paycheck that will go toward health care and retirement, unions also lost the ability to claim work as a "union-only" job, opening the door for private workers and evidently even inmates to step in and take their place.
Ladwig acknowledged in http://www.fox6now.com/news/witi-20110629-inmates-cut-grass,0,4799106.story"> an interview with Milwaukee's Fox New 6 that there was "lots of animosity out there" over the idea.
"But I think once people see things are still running smoothly, running efficiently, a lot of the fears will be alleviated," Ladwig added.
Inmates are not paid for their work, but receive time off their sentences.
At least for now, it doesn't look as if the roughly 860 inmates in the Dane County Jail will be seeing any changes in the work-related opportunities available to them, says Elise Schaffer, the spokeswoman for the Dane County Sheriff's Office.
Schaffer says inmates are allowed to clean the jail and serve meals, participate in the work release, or Huber, program, and are eligible to participate in a volunteer program that allows them to leave the jail and work at local non-profit organizations.
That list does not include any jobs that have ever been done by county workers, she says.
In addition, county unions recently renegotiated their contracts in January, meaning it is not possible for the "union-only" status of some jobs to be changed, at least until the next round of negotiations. Some contracts expire at the end of the year; others are good through 2014.
"Nobody in our jail will be benefitting (from the collective bargaining changes)," Schaffer says in reference to Racine County's plans to expand work options to its inmates. "Not at this time."
Inmates were first released from the Racine County Jail last June to cut the grass, a task that was being neglected by county workers because of budget cuts.
Teamsters Local 43, a union representing seasonal county workers, http://www.journaltimes.com/news/local/article_6a940044-5e23-11df-91a0-001cc4c03286.html"> challenged the expansion of inmate jobs in court. The union argued that allowing inmates to do union-only jobs was a violation of its contract with Racine County.
The judge sided with the union.
Ladwig says the changes to the state's collective bargaining law will allow Racine County workers to focus on more difficult tasks, such as building a parking lot at a local park.
"We have a win-win when we use inmates," Ladwig told the Racine Journal Times. "It gives them a sense of value ... they are helping the community."
The governor agrees.
"These reforms will ultimately help balance budgets, avoid layoffs, and at the same time improves services," says Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman in an email. "In this case, (Racine) County employees can build a parking lot instead of just mow grass."