This week, as thousands of state and local public employees converge on the Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposed gutting of union rights, state agencies will be making special efforts to keep track of which workers are on and off the job.
Carrie Mickelson, the HR director for the Wisconsin DNR, sent an email last Friday to DNR supervisors, requiring them to track employee attendance this week, via a system named DNR Morning Report. It begins:
Effective immediately, all DNR will use the DNR Morning Report system to provide staffing and operational status each day. Each supervisor is expected to fill out the Morning Report Staffing Data Entry Form for their program area each workday by 9:00 a.m. It is each supervisor's responsibility to fill out the Form or to coordinate with another non-represented supervisor to do the reporting for them. Your first reporting should be done for the morning of Monday, February 14.
"It's not so much taking attendance of employees, but rather dealing with an issue where some priority issues need to be involved," says Mickelson. "If somebody doesn't report to work, we need to make sure somebody else can handle those responsibilities. It's more about our redirecting our efforts."
The DNR is now taking roll, and plans to do so at least through the end of this week. Dept. of Administration spokesperson Carla Vigue says other state agencies have been asked to implement similar procedures.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin labor activists are busy planning a series of demonstrations this week against Gov. Walker's budget bill that would strip organizing and bargaining rights from state employee unions.
"This is obvious as all get out," says Dave Beck, president of WSEU Local 1218, (which represents DNR employees) about the attendance system. "It's an obvious attempt to intimidate state employees from attending any union functions." This union, along with pretty much every other local across Wisconsin, is encouraging members, on their own time, to attend a rally and lobbying campaign to be held at the Capitol on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Buses are scheduled to shuttle participants from around the state, coming from Milwaukee, Racine, Green Bay, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Wausau, Manitowoc, Mauston, Whitewater, Prainie du Chien, River Falls, and Superior.
The reporting system in place at the DNR has been in place since 2009, explains Mickelson, and was originally created in the wake of the H1N1 outbreak as a way of shuffling its geographically widespread workforce in the case of another epidemic, or other health-related issue causing widespread worker absence. This system is not used regularly, and is only utilized on a special basis.
"It's difficult to know if someone is sick in Spooner, so we want to make sure we cover all of our bases," says Mickelson. "If there is an illness or work stoppage, every work supervisor has access to the report."
Mickelson says the DNR was instructed on the use of this system by Art Zoellner, the continuity of government director at the Wisconsin Dept. of Administration. Zoellner would not confirm which other agencies are using a similar system this week, and directed questions to the Dept. of Administration Deputy Secretary Cynthia Archer, whose office has not responded to multiple inquiries.
"We're doing it to ensure first and foremost that our services are covered," explains Mickelson. "Now, if there are significant job actions that are being taken, we do need to hold people accountable for those types of events. But at this time, we're not looking at that. We're just making sure services are covered."