Guest commentary by Grant Davis, Vice President/Director of Operations Teamsters Local #14
Recently an award was granted in favor of Teamsters Local 14, on behalf of the Supervisory and Blue Collar city employees, in the ongoing grievance dispute with the City management and Council. The grievance stems from a clause in the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) wherein the employees agreed to forgo any wage increase during the 3-year term of the CBA provided that if any other bargaining unit in the City (Fire and Fire Captains, which are also represented by Teamsters Local 14, and the Police) received a “monetary gain” they would receive an equal “monetary gain”, commonly known as a “me too” clause. If no increases were given to the other bargaining units then this unit would not receive any increase. This is not the first time the City employees have come to the aid of the City.
Contrary to how some individuals in City Hall would like to portray these City employees this unit has made numerous concessions to aid the City over the past several years. Beginning in 2009, coinciding with the beginning of the “Great Recession”, these employees have assisted in confronting the financial challenges faced by the City. The employees have agreed to wage concessions, wage freezes, mandatory furlough days, loss of administrative days and holiday pay and a mandatory reduction in work week hours. During the period of 2009 – 2013, with the concession agreements taken into account, the employees received the equivalent of no pay increases. All these agreements were done by negotiation, with the agreement and consent of the Union and its members, and at no time did the City have to resort to legal action to force these measures.
During negotiating sessions for the July 1, 2013 CBA the City continued to claim financial distress. Teamsters agreed to continue to assist the City by agreeing that there would be no increases to employee’s salaries for the term of the three year agreement. In exchange we asked the City to agree to the “me too” clause. During the negotiation of this provision the City management guaranteed that in the event they agreed to “monetary increases” for the other units they would not try to get out of this clause. They claimed at the time that they were not concerned with the implementation of the clause because with the state of the City’s finances nobody would be receiving any increases. With full knowledge of this agreement, over a three-month period in late 2014 and early 2015, the City agreed to CBA’s with the Fire and Police units which gave these employees a new and more lucrative pay scale and in the course of placement into these scales the majority of these employees received pay increases.
Teamsters notified City management in March of 2015 that the City was in violation of the “me too” clause as the Blue Collar and Supervisory units had not received equivalent monetary gain. Since that time the City, led by their lead negotiator City Attorney Robert Sweetin, have done everything they can possibly do to avoid fulfilling their responsibilities in the agreement. Mr. Sweetin initially refused to acknowledge that the Union had requested “me too” negotiations and insisted that we negotiate a wage reopener to the contract. Many hours were wasted debating with Mr. Sweetin the intentions of our negotiations. This was just the first in a long line of ridiculous, and increasingly insulting, tactics employed by Mr. Sweetin. The City argued that the increases given to the police and fire couldn’t be translated into increases for our units because they all did different jobs. Mr. Sweetin also indicated that there was no way to arrive at a figure that could be used for equal monetary gain. Teamsters regularly provided Mr. Sweetin with solutions for both of these issues. All of Mr. Sweetin’s arguments were contrary to their previous promise at the negotiating table that they would not come back to this unit and find baseless reasons to deny the equal monetary gain. After many months of unproductive negotiations it was agreed that this matter would have to be resolved in arbitration.
Unfortunately Mr. Sweetin was not finished with his needless waste of the City’s resources by finding issues to debate. One week prior to the December 2015 arbitration hearing the selected arbitrator had to withdraw, and quit his practice, due to an illness. When it came time to select a replacement arbitrator Mr. Sweetin refused to participate in the selection process. Instead he argued that the union had not met their obligation to file a grievance or follow the grievance procedures and the City was not going to participate in the new arbitration. Teamsters had to petition the District Court to compel the City to participate in the selection of the new arbitrator. The District Court Judge didn’t even require our Attorney to make an oral argument. After listening to Mr. Sweetin’s argument the Judge ordered the City to select an arbitrator and proceed with the arbitration.
During the arbitration Mr. Sweetin continued to present the case that the Teamsters had not properly filed the grievance or followed the proper steps for the grievance, that there was no way to determine across job classifications what the proper equal monetary gain was and that the implementation of steps was not within the arbitrators ability to award. Our attorney argued that the grievance was properly filed and we provided the arbitrator with spreadsheets containing detailed financial analysis indicating what we believed was the appropriate amount for equal monetary gain.
Prior to the new arbitration and in spite of the City’s continued failure to keep its word or come to the table with viable options, Teamsters continued to try to present the City with an option for a settlement that was in the best interests of both the City and the employees. Our last settlement proposal provided to the City before the arbitrator’s decision would have saved the city in excess of $300,000 while extending the current CBA for an additional 2 years. The City declined our offer apparently in the hopes that the arbitrator would decide in their favor.
The Arbitrator rejected all Mr. Sweetin’s claims regarding the grievance procedure and awarded the employees with retroactive pay, that is pension-eligible compensation, back to July 1, 2013, and a salary scale similar to the one both the Police and Fire received. Teamsters and the City must still negotiate the true amount of the “equal” monetary gain or retain an accountant to determine this amount. This gamble with the resident’s tax money failed but Mr. Sweetin is already saying that instead of making a reasonable settlement he will be appealing this decision in District Court. When Mr. Sweetin loses this appeal the City will then be responsible for the Teamsters attorney fees, costs and interest on the original award. Instead of agreeing to a settlement that would have saved the City hundreds of thousands of dollars the City Attorney appears to be willing to continue to waste the City’s finances in a futile attempt to avoid doing the legally mandated and right thing by honoring the contractual agreement.
Seven years ago this group agreed to help the City get through the recession. Three years ago this group complied with the City’s plea for cooperation in freezing their pay. In return for this cooperation they have watched while everyone else, represented and non-represented employees, has received pay increases from a City who claims to be in financial distress. Additionally they have been insulted in the local press by blatant lies from the City Attorney who portrayed the group as greedy and unwilling to negotiate. All this group has ever asked is to be treated fairly and with respect. Now is the time for the City Council to honor their contractual agreement and put a stop to the needless waste by Mr. Sweetin of the City’s finances. It is time to show these City employees the respect they have earned and deserve.