MADISON (WKOW) -- A 27 News investigation has found the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is requiring the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WISDOT) to award retroactive overtime pay dating back to May 19, 2013 to nine Wisconsin State Patrol officers who serve as bodyguards for Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) and other state dignitaries.
Those officers comprise the state's Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU), which provides security for Gov. Walker 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That includes his protection on the presidential campaign trail. Since the State Patrol is a division of WISDOT, the officers are paid out of that agency's budget.
WISDOT Spokesperson Peg Schmitt told 27 News the agency was verbally notified of the decision by USDOL on Monday, August 24, but said officials have not yet determined how much it will cost state taxpayers.
Rhonda Burke, a USDOL spokesperson in Chicago, said in a typical investigation where a verbal notification is given, a written version of the decision would follow soon afterward.
But on Monday, Burke clarified that a written decision was not yet complete as the investigation is still ongoing. USDOL Spokesperson Scott Allen added that any further information, including whether a complaint was filed against WISDOT, would not be available until the final written decision is finished.
Burke said if a complaint was filed alleging overtime was not being correctly paid, USDOL wage and hour investigators would ask to examine pay roll records - including hours worked and rates of pay - to ensure the state was paying overtime wages in accordance with the law.
The cost for Gov. Walker's security detail jumped from $1.6 million in 2011 to $2.4 million in 2014. The out-of-state portion of that 2014 tab was $89,454, a number which is expected to jump up exponentially in 2015 with his run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) unveiled a new legislative proposal earlier this week that would require any state elected official who is running for - or even considering running for - higher office to submit a monthly travel form with the Government Accountability Board that explains what costs were incurred and who paid for them. Any campaign costs incurred by taxpayers would have to be reimbursed in a timely manner.
Both Rep. Shankland and Sen. Hansen jumped on news of the USDOL decision as an example of the lack of transparency associated with Walker's security expenses.
“Instead of waiting for the federal government to step in, the state should have paid these officers the overtime pay they were owed to begin with. Given the governor’s skyrocketing security and travel costs, it is more important than ever that he be held accountable for his campaign travel and reimburse taxpayers for his frivolous out-of-state campaign costs," said Rep. Shankland.
“The Governor’s attempt to save money on his skyrocketing travel costs at the expense of the brave men and women charged with protecting him is yet another reason we need greater accountability with respect to his campaign-related travel," added Sen. Hansen. "The taxpayers deserve not only transparency on this issue, they deserve to be reimbursed for those costs just as the men and women who provide his security deserve to be fairly compensated for their work.”
A 27 News investigation from earlier this year uncovered that DPU members were quietly awarded a $4 per hour raise on February 22.
Former Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said at the time that the raises were part of a WISDOT "pilot add-on" that granted the raises, but barred overtime for the bodyguards. He said the move would generate savings and stressed that the raises were not permanent.
But Schmitt confirmed at that time the raises would actually result in a net cost to WISDOT. Prior to the raises, DPU members could get overtime but were limited to $47,000 per year as an entire unit. That compensation system was originally put in place in March of 2006. The February raises were worth a total of $83,520, which meant the added cost to the DOT budget would be $36,500.
But with the recent decision handed down by USDOL, the amount WISDOT will have to pay in retroactive overtime will be significantly larger than that.
Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have much more on this story as it develops.