The public comment period at Tuesday’s Mesquite city council meeting turned into a battle of wills and words when Teamsters Local #14 Vice President/Director of Operations Grant Davis gave a statement regarding contract negotiations between the city and the union. Davis represents supervisory and blue collar city employees.
“I want to address to you the misconceptions that have been perpetrated about this group of hardworking and loyal city employees,” Davis said. He referenced recent articles in the Mesquite Local News pointing to comments by city attorney Robert Sweetin who Davis said characterized the employees as “greedy. That couldn’t be any further from the truth.”
Davis went on to make comments about the negotiations centered on the ‘me too’ clause in the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that basically said if any other employee group gets pay raises this group would also. City police and firefighters received step increases and several managers received pay raises.
The union contends that kicked in the clause and now wants raises for the rank-and-file employees. A recent arbitrator’s decision appears to support the union’s contention.
Many of Davis’ comments are included in his commentary in Thursday’s print edition on page 4A and is available online under Guest Column.
The fireworks began after Davis concluded his public comment remarks receiving a round of applause from employees who attended the meeting.
Councilman Kraig Hafen challenged many of Davis’ comments immediately saying “Just for the record, I don’t think anyone in here is disparaging city employees. Many of them are our friends.” Hafen also referenced Davis’ commentary in the MLN and said “we heard one side of the story. There are two sides to this story. To attack Mr. Sweetin…Mr. Sweetin works for us [council].”
Hafen asked Davis several questions about past meetings, negotiations, and presumably agreements that seemed to have settled the issues. “We’ve tried to put things out there,” Hafen said. After a couple audience snickers, Hafen asked how many times the employees were given an opportunity to vote on city proposals contending that most of the offers had never been presented to the entire union membership.
Davis explained that several offers had been taken to a small, select committee representing the whole membership on two different occasions. “When we get to the point where we’ll need input from the entire membership, we’ll take it to them for a vote,” he said.
Hafen then challenged Davis to bring the negotiations into the open and allow all of the union membership and the public “who’s paying for this” to attend the meetings between city officials and union leaders. “We can get this thing resolved so the employees can feel like they’ve been treated fairly and taxpayers which it’s their money, and bring this thing to a resolution,” Hafen said. “Let’s hold it right here, televise it and then there’s no disparity between what you said and what Sweetin said and what you say we didn’t propose. I agree with the ‘me too’ clause and think they deserve a raise.”
“I don’t know that I have any disagreement with that,” Davis said.
However, later when Davis was challenged again to hold public meetings, he walked back some of that saying, “I’ll speak with the [union] Secretary/Treasurer and get his opinion. You send me a formal request to do that.”
Councilman George Rapson joined in the discussion agreeing that he too wanted a public meeting and challenged the notion that all of the city’s offers had been taken to the full union membership. “I don’t know but I don’t think there has been an official vote by the [full] union. Yes, it’s been presented to a committee or stewards. They may have voted to not do something but the body of the union has not voted. I’m asking you [Davis].”
“I’m telling you, you are incorrect,” Davis said. “But a public process would create other issues so we need to talk about that. It’s the union’s decision; it will not be decided by the membership.”
“But the citizens of Mesquite who pay our wages get to have a dog in the fight,” Rapson said about public meetings. “They get to listen and they can comment.”
After a heated back-and-forth between Davis, Rapson and Hafen, Sweetin joined in asking Davis very pointed questions about previous negotiations and discussions.
One of them focused on a union representative, Fred Horvath, who had been part of meetings in April 2016. Sweetin contended that he and Horvath had reached a settlement to the whole pay issue but that the union leadership then backed out. “Mr. Horvath didn’t have authorization to make a deal,” Davis said. “He had authority to have conversations.”
“Your union made an offer and we made an agreement with Fred,” Sweetin said. “It was a 5 percent pay increase for all employees effective July 2016. All employees would have an opportunity to gain any lost pay increase. Every employee would receive a retro paycheck for 18 months based on a 5 percent pay increase. The current CBA would be extended an additional two years. Employees topped out would receive an additional 3 percent pay increase. That’s the deal Fred made with us. You sent me an email later that day that said ‘sounds like we have an agreement.’”
“We took it back and our membership said no,” Davis said. He conceded that the particular offer had probably not gone to the full membership but that the committee had decided on it. “But I don’t know that for a fact,” he said adding that he didn’t have all his notes with him.
After the 20-minute contentious discussion concluded, the room was quiet and the employees left the meeting.