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May 21, 2014

Labor pains

City workers air grievances with Fischer administration

When Greg Fischer ran his successful campaign to become mayor of Louisville in 2010, his endorsement and support from local labor unions was a key ingredient toward his ability to win competitive races in both the primary and general election.

Four years later, several of those same labor unions representing thousands of city workers have become his biggest critics, blasting Mayor Fischer for broken promises, hardball contract negotiations and his lack of accessibility for workers to air concerns and complaints.

The most vocal critic of Fischer among the city workers’ unions is AFSCME Local 2629, representing more than 800 workers throughout Metro government. Their president, Wesley Stover, shared with LEO a long list of complaints their members have with Fischer, from retaliation against workers signing union cards to hostile behavior at the negotiation table from Fischer’s labor liaison, O’Dell Henderson. AFSCME was one of several members of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council — a coalition of local labor unions — that lobbied successfully for the coalition to withhold an endorsement of Fischer in this year’s election.

“He has failed to fulfill many of the promises he made to us when he ran for office,” says Stover. “He refuses to meet with some of our locals, and he continually harms our people and locals with aggressive contracts. We’ve reached out the olive branch several times trying to help him, the city and our members, and we’ve received nothing back.”

LEO asked Mayor Fischer about some of the complaints from city workers’ unions, but Fischer’s spokesman, Chris Poynter, told us the mayor’s relationship with city workers is just fine.

“I can’t comment on specifics, but Mayor Fischer and his team have a good relationship with our labor unions,” says Poynter. “We work together to reach collective bargaining agreements that are fair to both labor and management.”

 

Stover says that more than 40 city workers have signed cards to join AFSCME, yet the Fischer administration has neither recognized their membership — meaning they do not have protections and coverage under AFSCME — nor given them the 2 percent raise other non-union employees received last July. Henri Mangeot, a mediator with the Louisville Labor Management Group, ruled months ago that Fischer should immediately allow these workers to be brought into the union.

Stover also says their members who work at the Air Pollution Control District are being targeted. After critical state and federal audits showing the management of the department woefully lacking, Fischer hired a third-party auditor who recommended changing the education requirement for many workers not responsible for faults exposed in the audit, making them reapply for their jobs.

“What that does is effectively put 15 of our 19 members out of a job,” says Stover. “So even though you’ve done the job for 20 years — one has worked there 28 years — you’re out on the street … because of education levels. What the city is trying to do here is get rid of the higher-paid older workers.”

Stover also argues that Metro Technology Services employees are having hours and positions cut back by the city hiring subcontractors, and that these workers — along with employees at the zoo and Metro Revenue Commission — have had wages and bonuses frozen while contract negotiations have dragged on since last year.

“Our members still have not received their back pay, almost a year afterwards,” says Stover. “It seems like they keep hitting the reset button and keep sliding over more and more things to sign. They tried to slide in 11 changes under the radar that our members never signed and agreed to. Some of the changes would be to the tune of $10,000 or more per member.”

Stover also says he has tired in vain to meet with Mayor Fischer seven times — through every possible avenue — to air some of these complaints. When he has been able to sit down at the negotiating table with the administration, he says he is subjected to unprofessional hostility.

“Negotiations are always adversarial in nature,” says Stover, “but you have O’Dell Henderson leading those negotiations as labor liaison who is rude, arrogant and disrespectful, trying to personally attack people at the table.”

In December, Fischer told LEO that during contract negations, unions must meet with his liaison at the bargaining table, but Stover replies, “We have seven contracts just on one local, and our contracts are for four years and take two to three years to resolve, so we’ll always be in negotiations. The mayor just refuses to meet with us and have any discussion at all.”

Stephanie Croft is the president of a separate AFSCME group, Local 3425, representing nearly 230 library workers. Croft, a library clerk since 2005, says the Fischer administration has taken away their sick time, vacation time and raises, in addition to replacing full-time workers with part-time workers so they don’t have to pay benefits, which she says is eroding their contract. “When Fischer came into office, we thought he was going to be for labor rights and union workers, and it turns out not to be that way,” says Croft.

John Stovall — president of the Teamsters Local 783, representing roughly 1,000 city workers, many in public safety — says that some members have gone four years without a raise and feel let down by the mayor they played a vital role in electing. He says city workers upset with the lack of raises and dragged out contract negotiations may begin to take direct action.

“We can’t authorize a strike as public employees,” says Stovall. “But we could stand down at city hall, go to Council meetings or have rolling pickets by people who take personal days — just to get the public’s attention or Council’s on some of this stuff.”

Ken Koch, president of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, stands by his coalition’s decision to withhold from endorsing Fischer, telling LEO he’s “not kept any of his promises” to labor, slamming Henderson as being “about as far from labor as I am from a Wall Street banker.”

Kirk Gillenwaters of the United Auto Workers Local 862 told LEO that even larger unions without city workers supported the GLCLC’s decision, because “big labor has a responsibility to support the little guys, and when smaller unions have a problem, we all have a problem. That’s what solidarity is all about.”

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