Friday, November 2, 2007

Former Personnel Director Comments on AFSCME Issue

On Friday mornings, as I always do, I take a look at the week via newspapers and various websites, just to get a nice picture of both the world, and local news. I still look at the New Milford Times and your Web Page. In scrolling down, I read two different entries from Martha Sanford, AFSCME Vice President, regarding her take on the stalled union negotiations. One goes back to September 8, and one to September 10.

I cannot help but “scratch my head” when I read certain things. Let us begin with Martha’s comment, “Probably to the dismay of fellow Union members”. Martha made the decision to present her opinion of the process with disregard for her fellow union members, which certainly reflects on the continuing disregard for fellow union members who would like to see the issues resolved and move on with life.

The next comment that stands out is “the Mayor and the Personnel Director negotiated for the Town” and that “we were not to discuss the issues until the time of voting”. I for one, and I can vouch for the Mayor, did not “negotiate for the Town” without regard for the employees as well. Without the employees, the Town would certainly have difficulty running itself, and the Mayor has always respected and valued her employees.

Negotiations are done with an eye toward what is fair and reasonable with respect to the budget, what provides for the retention and recruitment of good employees, and what makes for the promotion of strategic initiatives going forward in accomplishing Town business. We never discussed the issues outside of the negotiating arena while I was there, but I know for a fact that the union did because information became public in the newspapers. I don’t remember the dates, but I do remember reading an article in the paper with quotes from Christine Thomas referencing bargaining issues. It may have been missed by the general public, but it didn’t pass by me.

As I move on I see Martha’s comment, “This is the Process:” and she goes on to describe the process except that she leaves out the very first, important step….are we done? I firmly believe that the members of the negotiating team took advantage of the fact that I was leaving, knew there would be a gap and a learning curve for the next Personnel Director, and rushed off to “take a vote”. I cannot speak to what happened after I left, but I can assure you WE WERE NOT DONE. I explicitly said that I would try to type everything up, get it into my last draft (i.e. my “final draft”) and then would pass this along to the next Personnel Director, who would have to hit the ground running and play catch up. There were labor pay grades that required finalizing, the Facilities Maintainer’s pay scales that needed some corrections, the appendix wasn’t done, and the Town Attorney still needed to review the document. It had not been to an Executive Session yet, and all of these processes are consistent with how negotiations have always been done at Town Hall. I know because I served on the negotiating team twice in six years for five different contracts. In addition, there were no TA’s, which the Mayor always does when she is firm on an issue. So, for the union negotiating team to say “it’s done” is an out and out falsification.

Martha goes on to say, “the sad part is the taxpayers have to pay for the Town Council’s inability to complete the process” and “if the Mayor had a more organized associate to work with, then none of this would have been a problem. It was always the Union with the help of the Mayor trying to make the process easier to flow and understand”. That’s quite a mouthful, wouldn’t you say? Let’s see in two sentences she has basically called everyone on the Town Council incompetent, and I assume that I am “the associate”, unless she is referring to Marla Scribner, Tammy Reardon or Monika Roberts which I don’t think she is. Again, this speaks volumes. Don’t you think it’s a good tactic in labor negotiations to put into writing that the other side is incompetent and apparently disorganized and that the only competent members are the union? Can you imagine what is being said “behind our backs”. How I ever got through life I’ll never know. How I have managed to move to Florida, find a great job as a Human Resource Director, complete an entire negotiation here, signed sealed and delivered and life has moved on, I’ll just never know.

There was a comment about a “leaked email” and a pizza party. The union is not to use Town equipment, which includes emails, for union business. If it was a private email that was leaked my apologies. If it was on the Town’s equipment, another rule violation. But who’s counting.

There was also reference to the layoffs when Gambino was Mayor and Martha’s position that was again the Town’s horrible treatment of them. Layoff’s occurred because the Board of Finance made huge cuts to personnel. Then Mayor Gambino had no choice.He went to his Directors for input, as he should have, and then had to make the cuts based on how best to move the town forward. Unfortunately, due to the UNION’s bumping clause, which lets the most senior employees bump those under them, a waterfall occurred that was truly horrendous for the employees. No one within AFSCME had any security at the time due to their bumping clause. That clause hasn’t changed if anyone wants to look. Seniority, a cornerstone in the unions…obviously not competency, will prevail.

Actually at the time, Martha Sanford was in a probationary period, because she was in a new position. The union contract said that employees “on probation” would be the first bumped. I contacted Katherine Thomas, our labor attorney at the time, and we reviewed that and we determined that it probably did not mean those employees on “probation” as promotions. I GAVE MARTHA SANFORD A BREAK. Thanks Martha for a vote of confidence. (You can go check the personnel records on that)

Martha’s final comment references “120 sick days”, as though the Mayor wanted to eliminate that. Carrying 120 sick days in the bank, with a payout upon retirement is a nice benefit. HOWEVER, let us remember that AFSCME also has a short term disability package, which allows after one year of employment, to get up to 26 weeks short term disability, and another 26 weeks long term if need be. All AFSCME employees have this benefit after one year of employment, which is a huge benefit. The Mayor and I wanted to amend the prior agreement which put a cap on the bank when they got this benefit, since there were so many complaints about it. We said we would go back to original past practice, which was the ability to accrue 120 days in the bank AND still have the short term disability benefit. Check the other union contracts….Teamsters and UPSEU, they don’t have it, or at least they didn’t when I was there.

So what is the union screaming about and ringing up those legal fees, fueling dissention….all over the number of hours accruable in the bank? Ask the non-union Directors and supervisors, who cannot accrue overtime, if they get this benefit?

In closing, I would like to say that there are two forms of bargaining, distributive, and positional. I am sure Martha and Christine are familiar with both, since they are so much more organized and professional than I am. Distributive bargaining presents the position that there is one issue in which the two bargaining teams are at conflict with, and one of the parties will lose and the other will gain. The two try to come to terms to compromise so there can be a win-win. The other form of bargaining is Interest Based Bargaining versus Positional Bargaining. In interest based bargaining one looks for a common ground. In positional bargaining, negotiators lock themselves into their positions and find it difficult to move away from these positions. They lose sight of the underlying problems to be resolved and place the emphasis on winning their point. There is a duty of fair representation when negotiations occur. This requires that the unions act fairly on behalf of their membership. You decide which position is being taken.

Frankly, I think the union, under the leadership of Christine Thomas and Martha Sanford, have kicked the Mayor squarely in the teeth and put their self promotion before the needs of their membership. She was good to them, she went to bat for them, her door was always open to them and they know it.

As the old phrase goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”. And obviously, all of the times I went before the Town Council to get them pay increases (much to the consternation of the council) and to better their work conditions, carry no water. I am apparently still an unorganized “associate” and the Mayor is a callous leader who, if the union met with her, “would provide them nothing to gain but the feeling of giving in again”.

Maybe we should put George McLaughlin on the next negotiating team for the Town. I read Tom DiCandido’s comment about having George on the Town Council. Might be interesting to have him on the negotiating team.

Paula Kelly

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