A senior Republican state legislator criticized a Milwaukee County official Friday for being unclear on whether the Milwaukee County Board allegedly reopened contract negotiations with a decertified union. 

In a letter to Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic, Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said recent reports of the board’s contract negotiations with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 48, a decertified public employee union, raised serious concerns about the board’s integrity. 

Ellis said Dimitrijevic’s lack of clarity in response to questions about the reported “secret negotiations” was “disgraceful” to Milwaukee County voters and the Legislature. 

“Advancing an agenda in violation of state law, against the advice of county and outside legal counsel is unwise at best,” Ellis said. “I assure that, if true, I will personally view these negotiations as an insult to the Wisconsin Legislature and the voters that elected us.”

Dimitrijevic’s office did not return requests for comment on the letter. 

However, Richard Abelson, executive director of AFSCME 48, said while his union has been engaged in discussions with the board, their discussions have not regarded legal contracts. 

“There’s never been any talk about a written contract, per se,” Abelson said. “We have been seeking to reach agreements but not in contract negotiations.”

Abelson said any reasonable employer would engage in conversations with its employees. Allegations and the controversy surrounding the meetings are “much ado about nothing,” he said. 

According to Abelson, AFSCME 48, which represents 3,000 Milwaukee County employees, did not choose to seek recertification because its leaders disagreed with laws passed by the state last session curbing collective bargaining rights for many public employee unions. 

Abelson said a recent court ruling by Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas, which is currently being challenged in an Appeals Court, struck down the parts of the law dealing with certification. 

Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander, District 18, said she and other members have met to hear concerns from Council 48 members, adding none of those meetings had to do with contract negotiations.

“I’m happy to listen to their concerns in situations that were completely separate from contract negotiations where nothing was private, just to hear what their concerns are,” Alexander said. “I think it’s OK to have communication.”

Although Alexander said she was unable to comment on what happened during closed sessions, she confirmed reports from Aaron Rodriguez, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blogger, that the Milwaukee County Board has directed a head of the county’s Department of Labor Relations to enter into negotiations with the union.

In a March 22 email sent to committee members after a closed meeting March 20, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he was concerned about the direction the committee gave to the department. 

“I have asked for and received a clarifying legal opinion from Corporation Counsel that further underscores the risk to the County if the Department of Labor Relations proceeds as directed,” Abele said. “Given this risk, I urge you to reconsider that direction.”

Brendan Conway, Abele’s spokesperson, said attorneys have advised the county to not follow Colas’ ruling until the state’s Supreme Court decided on it.