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Issue of the Week: Picking Unnecessary Fights

Jul. 18, 2012
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Issue of the Week: Picking Unnecessary Fights

Last week Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele wrote an opinion piece in the Journal Sentinel about a labor dispute between a long-established Milwaukee company, Palermo's Pizza, and its employees, weighing in heavily on the side of management and against labor. Abele's action was especially strange because he freely admits in the beginning of his piece that he does not know the facts about the dispute, adding that he knows the owner of Palermo's and considers him a friend. The owner may very well be a good guy, but labor strikes are not casual actions and a situation typically has to get very raw, especially in a slow economy, before employees walk off the job.

Like most labor-management disputes, this one is very complex. The employees and the company have been working on the issues leading up to this dispute since 2008. In the past several weeks, the daily paper reported on the complexities of this particular situation, including the involvement of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Palermo's stipulated to the NLRB that it recently terminated 75 employees. It also hired 82 new employees. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been involved and working with the Department of Labor over proof of citizenship among some employees. On top of all that are complex bread-and-butter issues.

There are always two sides to a story, but Abele admits that he got all of his firsthand information about the dispute from just one side: management.

So why would Abele, as our county executive, get involved in a dispute between a private company and its employees when he freely admits he doesn't know the facts? Why would he, by his own admission, get only one side of the story and then refer to the allegations of the labor side as "questionable at best and outright lies at worst."

Perhaps this is Abele's way of doing business. Whereas virtually all of our current and previous top government executives worked their way up and learned along the way, Abele didn't. Mayor Tom Barrett, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Mayors Marvin Pratt, John Norquist and Henry Maier and former County Executives Scott Walker and Tom Ament all started as state legislators, aldermen or county supervisors. In those positions they spent years listening, observing and learning before running for a top executive position.

Abele didn't start that way, likely for two reasons. One, campaigning for lower-level positions requires a candidate to go "door to door" and talk to voters one on one. In that process the voter gets to meet and evaluate the candidate and the candidate learns about individuals from different cultures and circumstances. Abele, whose father co-founded the firm Boston Scientific, has not faced the same challenges as many everyday people, so the door-to-door approach would not have been appealing to him.

Secondly, large amounts of money can allow candidates to skip the learning curve. A large campaign fund is not required to win a local legislative election, since you don't buy TV ads when your legislative district represents only about 3% or 4% of viewership. On the other hand, when you are running for a higher office, unfortunately it is mostly about big money. Whereas you can't usually buy a local legislative office, you can buy a major office with millions of dollars of TV ads.

So this situation involving the labor dispute is somewhat indicative of how the county is currently being run. As we learned in the campaign, Abele comes to this position without much work or management experience and no political experience.

It is a shame that, instead of trying to make up for these deficiencies by listening and learning, he too often approaches situations without a clear understanding of the facts. This type of approach results in poor decision-making that ends up hurting the county and its taxpayers.

Heroes of the Week: Happy Endings Cat Shelter Volunteers

Happy Endings (5349 W. Forest Home Ave.) is a no-kill cat shelter dedicated to rehabilitating and finding permanent homes for feral, stray, abused, neglected, unwanted or critically injured cats. Founded in 1994, the organization provides shelter and care for cats and kittens. Happy Endings' Darlene Rager said "some cats are quite shy and considered 'unadoptable' by other shelters, but our volunteers work with these cats daily to build a trust of people and offer a secure environment until they are ready to be adopted." Rager says she wholeheartedly believes that each shelter volunteer and donor is a hero for helping to turn these cats' lives around.

This nonprofit sanctuary is run by volunteers and funded only by donations, merchandise sales and adoption fees. Happy Endings is seeking volunteers 13 years and older to help with cleaning crews (daily care of cats and kittens) and fundraisers. Fundraisers help to cover medical bills; upcoming events include the "Spares for Spays" bowling tournament in August and the shelter's annual auction in October. The shelter is also in need of donors to sponsor a specific cat or a kitty condo on a monthly basis, experienced foster homes for pregnant mothers and kittens, and non-clumping cat litter. There are also hopes of finding a larger location.

Volunteer and foster applications are available online at www.HappyEndings.us. For more information, leave a message at 414-744-3287, email MediaRelations@HappyEndings.us or visit the shelter during open-house hours 6-9 p.m. Thursdays or 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.


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