Guest column: A response to the mayor

Jun 11, 2014 at 5:00 am

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When I learned about Mayor Greg Fischer’s response to LEO Weekly’s May 21 “Labor pains” article, I was encouraged he was acknowledging labor concerns. I was also discouraged that he responded to the media instead of meeting with labor groups. I have always respected the Office of the Mayor and felt that Mayor Fischer would intervene to promote justice if he knew what was happening in his name. However, his response dismayed me. Although the mayor has responded with utmost professionalism, it is inaccurate and incomplete.

First, Mayor Fischer’s references to Metro’s agreements and negotiations with me are incorrect. Metro negotiates agreements with AFSCME Local 2629; I participate in those negotiations only as a union leader.

The mayor discussed finances and said Metro government has 27 contracts. For three years, AFSCME has tried to alleviate that burden by merging seven of our contracts into one agreement. But this administration has repeatedly refused to merge the contracts. We will soon begin negotiating a contract for nine people because of this.

The mayor correctly says adding workers to an existing contract requires a side letter, but he may be misinformed. He said adding workers to a contract with a side letter usually takes two weeks, but some Metro workers have been waiting for almost four years. Although not recognized as union members by Metro and not receiving the benefits of the union contract, these employees have also stopped receiving their few non-union benefits.

AFSCME recently secured an injunction from Jefferson County Circuit Court requiring Metro to temporarily stop its plan to change job descriptions of 19 of our 21 members within the Air Pollution Control District and to force all members to reapply for their positions. According to the job descriptions we received several months ago, 15 of those 19 members would no longer qualify for their positions. The injunction enabled the parties to work toward a resolution through discussions. Unfortunately, Metro has taken this decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals rather than working with the union. Metro also incorrectly says its plan complied with the collective bargaining agreement. Implying that our contracts would let an administrator change a job description to force experienced workers into the unemployment lines after decades of dedicated service to their community contradicts one of the most fundamental principles of a union.

Next, Mayor Fischer says no jobs or hours have been cut at Metro Technology Services due to subcontracting. However, a review of the budgets from the past several years shows a reduction in four positions within one classification alone. The new sub-contractor duties are historically performed by this classification. Although the Metro Technology contract, which was negotiated before the current union administration, allows for sub-contractors in certain specific instances, it does not allow for subcontracting to reduce or replace members.

There also seems to be slight confusion concerning the rejected contracts at the zoo, Metro Technology and the Revenue Commission. The Revenue workers have received their contractual benefits throughout the negotiating process. Metro will not allow any raises based on an employee’s time of service, so there are no raises or bonuses for Metro to withhold. However, since the expiration of the zoo, parks and corrections contracts, all monetary benefits have been indefinitely suspended until a new contract is ratified and approved. We would be glad for all provisions of our contracts to continue throughout negotiations, and we welcome Mayor Fischer to ensure that result.

The mayor is also wrong about the changes to negotiated agreements. During Master Contract negotiations, Metro fought to change tentative agreements. This is one of the union’s most important concerns. We have tried seven times to meet with the mayor about it, only to be ignored or have our meetings canceled. I would welcome the opportunity to provide dates of these meetings and interactions. Finally, Mayor Fischer addressed his labor liaison. I respect his acknowledgement that emotions can run high during negotiations, and I agree being told “No” while negotiating is not disrespectful. I invite him to meet with our committees or read any written statements from our committee members concerning our experiences at the bargaining table.

Metro employees are the backbone of service delivery to our community, and we are pleased Mayor Fischer is committing to negotiate all contracts in good faith. I am happy he wants to diligently adhere to every provision of our agreements so we can end his administration’s practice of excluding benefits during extensions. We welcome the opportunity to meet with the mayor to work for better government.

Wesley J. Stover is the president of the AFSCME Local 2629.