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The Badger Herald

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The Badger Herald

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Officials debate pros, cons of various Overture fund plans

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With a Madison cicty council meeting scheduled for next Tuesday and the Dec. 31 deadline for choosing a plan looming, officials must soon make a decision about how best to support the performance space.[/media-credit]

Concerns over employment benefits are still an unclear part of a new plan for the Overture Center that would privatize ownership and operation.

While much of the version’s content was widely accepted by the city’s Overture Center work group, concerns were raised regarding the impact privatizing a public business would have on employees.

The most recent suggestion would assume ownership and operation by 201 State Foundation, Overture’s current fundraising arm, instead of the previously considered public-public or public-private operating conditions.

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Creating a hybrid of employee-types raises the question of who is in charge and would ultimately result in employees losing crude benefits, City Attorney Michael May said.

If the City Council approves the newest plan, 201 State would be required to offer all current Overture employees the option of staying on with Overture, though negotiations on benefits and wages would still be up for consideration.

The Overture employees would most likely have an 18-week transition period that would allow them enough time to look at their options, May said.

Certain employees will have the option of bumping to another city-paid position if they are represented employees and are not satisfied with the proposed package, he said.

However, May said there are still some questions on what is practical and what would be allowed in employee negotiations.

For employees choosing to stay with the Overture, a privatized company would not be able to lower wages from their current rates on Jan. 1, 2012 because of restrictions in the newest version, May said.

“We are asking the new entity to hire people at a level comparable to the current level from the city,” Ald. Michael Schumacher, District 18, said.

The work group considered concerns about pension liability, already compiled sick leave and vacation time, and retirement bonuses.

“When employees leave the city employment system, they are leaving the retirement system which is more generous on the city’s side than in the private sector,” Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, District 12, said.

Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, said she is hopeful State 201 will agree to a 401(k) plan for returning Overture employees if the revised version passes the Common Council.

Bidar-Sielaff also proposed if 201 State does not initially agree to a 401(k), perhaps the city would put forward an initial contribution to the employees previously considered city workers.

A government entity contributing into a 401(k) would require a significant study on what can and cannot be done, May said.

The workgroup also needs to take into consideration the potential precedents that would be set by such contributions, May said.

Before beginning a closed session, the committee agreed many questions would go unanswered until Friday’s meeting with 201 State’s Human Relations.

Given these questions are answered in a timely manner, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he hopes to see the package approved by the Common Council on Tuesday.

However, Verveer said if he is asked to vote for a model that is not public-public, he would like to have a higher comfort level on how Overture employees are going to be treated.

More specific details on employee treatment are critical if the work group hopes to get the 11 necessary votes Tuesday, Verveer added.

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