11/5/07

Union delays, waits for politics to improve deal

It’s been more than two months since the city and its largest union announced they had reached a tentative deal on a contract. Now that deal may be at risk.

Duluth City Administrator John Hall said Friday hedidn’t know whether a deal was still in place and accused the union of dragging its feet by not putting the contact up for a vote by its members. He said he believes the union is waiting to see the results of the election. If enough American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers-supported City Council candidates win their races, Hall believes a new council will vote the contract down.

That will pave the way, Hall said, for the union to negotiate for a better contract that includes a bigger salary increase. “There is no other reason I can think of to continue or delay like this,” he said. “We still haven’t gotten an answer if they will take the contract to a vote or not.”

AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt said those charges are false and that a tentative deal was still in place. She said the delay was due to both the city and the union agreeing to change the language. Munt told the News Tribune last week that it was the city that had sought to “tweak” the language of the contract. “These aren’t showstoppers,” she said last week. “We need to agree with the tweaks.”

But Hall called that a lie. “We have avoided trying to change the language,” he said. “It is the union that has asked to have language added.”

Hall said that shortly after the tentative deal was reached on Sept. 18, the union wanted to add language that would have “negotiated away management’s right to organize and staff a workplace.”

He declined to elaborate on what that meant, saying he did not want to be accused of negotiating a deal through the press. He said the city initially didn’t want to agree to the language, but a mediator was able to come up with a compromise that the city agreed to.

Two weeks ago, Hall said the mediator called and told him that AFSCME agreed to the contract. However, two hours later, Hall said AFSCME representative Ken Loeffler Kemp called him and said he wanted to change the language again. Hall said he refused.

Hall then said he asked the mediator to force AFSCME to decide whether it will take the contract to a vote. Loeffler Kemp told the mediator that his schedule was too full until next Wednesday, the day after the election.

“I can’t take that as coincidence,” Hall said.

Munt said that AFSCME is working with the mediator and city toward reaching a deal. However, she said she didn’t know when the contract would be put to a vote, saying the city has not yet agreed on language.

“This is a customary procedure what’s happening right now,” she said.

(duluthnewstribune.com)

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