11/8/08

Judge puts AFSCME in charge of labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo militant gov't union gains executive power

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge yesterday ordered the Carcieri administration to turn over contracts and other records pertaining to its privatization efforts to the union that represents state workers.

Judge Netti C. Vogel said a state law passed last year, over Governor Carcieri’s veto, gives Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, “a clear legal right … to access the specific public records that they sought from [administration officials].”

“The court declares that under the subject wording of the statute, information about privatization contracts valued at $100,000, or more, must be disclosed in accordance with [the law] so long as the contracts provide services that once were performed by public agency employees at some time in the past.”

The General Assembly passed a law last year that requires the state to produce verifiable evidence of potential savings and proof that present state employees cannot perform the service just as efficiently.

The law requires state departments to conduct detailed cost comparisons before awarding contracts to private firms. It also requires that “the savings to the state is substantial,” but does not define “substantial” savings.

Information about the contracts and a summary of private contractor employees for the appropriate contracts is supposed to be included with the administrative agency budget requests.

The law gives “affected parties” — program recipients, state employees or unions — 60 days to appeal any privatization decision to a Superior Court judge.

The union claimed the governor and administration officials unjustifiably denied its requests to produce records pertaining to privatization contracts. The union further claimed the state failed to compile the mandatory records.

Carcieri administration officials contended they had complied with the law and that the union based its lawsuit on an “overly broad interpretation” of the law, Vogel wrote in a 22-page decision released yesterday.

Vogel ordered the governor and his administrators to compile records related to agency budget requests submitted since June 23, 2006, and make them available to the union. The judge also ordered the state to pay the union’s legal fees and costs related to the lawsuit.

In a statement released to The Journal, Council 94 President J. Michael Downey said: “As the state continues to experience budgetary problems, the public deserves to know how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on private contractors and temporary employees. While it cannot eliminate all temporary employees, the state’s over-reliance on these firms required more rigorous oversight to avoid abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.”

A Carcieri spokesman said the governor’s legal office would release a statement Monday regarding Vogel’s decision.

(projo.com)

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