5/5/08

A job for life, thanks to powerful gov't-unions

Unless you are one of a handful of mayoral appointments or an elected official, if you are drawing a paycheck from the city of Dunkirk (NY) you can count on that continuing for as long as you like. If you belong to one of the city’s four unions and do not run afoul of the law or work rules, you can plan ahead.

And there are programs set up to help employees who do have problems, giving the city a chance to help a trained employee keep his or her job.

With the clauses having been added to the contracts prior to the new ones, the city is limited in reducing its staffing levels.

AFSCME AFL-CIO Local 912 represents the city’s non-uniformed workers and has made sure its workers stayed on the job under Article 18 of the contract.

“The City of Dunkirk agrees that during the term of this Collective Bargaining Agreement it shall not lay off any member of the bargaining unit, excluding retirements, voluntary quits, and/or discharges for cause.”

The city’s contract with the City of Dunkirk Police Benevolent Association requires the city to “maintain 33 or greater officer positions, including one captain, four lieutenants, and three road sergeants in the Police Department.”

Article 35 of the contract addresses any future changes, requiring the Dunkirk PBA to be included in, “any discussion of any kind with regard to the consolidation, merger, accretion, subcontracting or any other change in the delivery or takeover of police related services by any other department or agency. Any such plan will include provisions for the continued job security and maintenance of the collective bargaining agreement in existence at the time of the consolidation, merger, accretion, subcontracting or any other change in the delivery or takeover of police related services.”

Section 16.06 of the city’s agreement with the Dunkirk Professional Firefighters’ Association Local 616 covers staffing.

“During the term of this Agreement, the city shall maintain existing Fire Department staff levels at not less than 26 full-time members ... contingent upon the creation of the Captain’s position.”

The creation of that captain position is covered under Section 15.03 and will be done under Civil Service promotional regulations.

The fire chief must also make every effort to bring in off-duty firefighters before requesting mutual aid from outside departments.

While it may seem to some the city played giveaway, City Attorney Dan Gard said that was not the case.

“There are a bunch of issues where we got a lot of give from the unions,” he said. “The unions, without going through all my negotiations notes from all the contracts I couldn’t be very specific, but what I can tell you is all of the unions were reasonable.

“If you’re going to get something you’re going to give something too, otherwise it’s not a negotiation, it’s a stickup. ... These four unions all accepted a raise that did not even cover the cost of living increase. And I think that speaks very well of the reasonableness of both the unions and the negotiation power of the administration. I think any time you can make a statement like that, I think you’ve done a good job.”

Part of that job was dealing with the provisions in the existing contracts, and part of it was working with a Common Council that changed due to elections.

“Something that people should know is that yes, there was some discussion of a charter provision that says the council has a right to have two members sit at the table during the negotiation, that is a very old provision. Councilman (James) Muscato came to me at the very beginning of negotiation and said ‘you know what, I think that we should consider having a couple of council members in the negotiations at the table,” Gard said. “Obviously they can’t say anything, they can’t do anything. It’s not like they get a vote right there. They don’t negotiate but they can sit and listen.”

While Gard would have had less explaining of the contracts to do if council members sat in on negotiations, there was a drawback.

“There is some case law that is much more recent than that provision in the charter, and what that says is that a councilman, or a member of the legislative body who has the final approval of the contract, who sits in on the negotiation until you reach a memorandum of agreement, cannot then vote against the agreement in their legislative function,” Gard explained. “And this is not something that is an obscure provision that unions aren’t aware of. This is something that the union attorneys discussed with me when that discussion came up. ... And Jim (Muscato), and I think wisely so, made the decision not to go to the negotiations to preserve his right to vote against the contracts if he didn’t feel it was in the best interests of the city of Dunkirk. I know that he had taken some heat. You should have done this, you should have demanded this, we have the right to do this.

“It was an educated decision, it was an educated call not to do it and I agree with it. It would have made my life easier to have them there but in the end I think it would have been robbing them of the function that they’re for, for the final approval of the contracts.

“Part of the blowback is going to be certain people never having this experience before think that you can just throw out the contract that you’ve got and start over again, and these are my demands.They don’t want to negotiate, they want it to be a stickup on our end. You can’t do it that way, you’ve got that nasty Taylor Law to contend with.

“I think there’s some confusion and I chalk that up to having new people who don’t know what the process is. It’s good they have questions but there’s also got to be some understanding there.”

(observertoday.com)

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