At the Mesquite City Council meeting Aug. 23 Councilman Kraig Hafen challenged Teamsters Local #14 Vice President/Director of Operations Grant Davis to hold public hearings in an ongoing contract dispute. Davis at first accepted the offer and then walked it back saying “I’ll speak with the [union] Secretary/Treasurer and get his opinion. You send me a formal request to do that.”

City Attorney Bob Sweetin did just that the next day sending a letter to Larry Griffith, Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters Aug. 24. Sweetin said “Mr. Davis expressed his agreement with the City Council that both sides would benefit from future negotiations being held in a public forum. Mr. Davis then stated that, although he did not have the authority to make that decision, a formal request could be made to you.

“This letter serves as that formal request invited by Grant Davis to hold negotiations publicly. Based on the concerns expressed in Grant’s editorial published in the Mesquite Local News on Aug. 23, 2016, and his own agreement that holding negotiations publicly would be a good idea, it seems to be a win-win proposition.

“We look forward to your response, to getting the hard-working employees of the City of Mesquite the pay increases they deserve, and to bringing an expeditious close to this matter.”

Adam Levine, attorney for the Teamsters, responded to Sweetin’s letter on Aug. 31 saying “After reviewing the matter, Teamsters Local 14 must politely decline any offers to hold discussions related to any grievance(s) in a public forum. Labor policy is founded upon the principle ‘of encouraging private resolution of contractual labor disputes.’

“In my experience, attempting to hold grievance discussions, or even contract negotiations, in a public setting discourages candid discourse as one party or the other may be tempted to engage in grandstanding or otherwise pander to the audience. Where, as here, elected officials are involved, those concerns are magnified.”

Levine referenced spreadsheets that were included in the letter to the city containing calculations that show the amounts of raises the union says city employees are owed under a July 2013 collective bargaining agreement that includes a ‘me too’ clause. He suggested the city finance department “check the math.”

Those spreadsheets have not been made available to the Mesquite Local News yet.

Levine concluded his letter saying “We expect these raises to be processed and implemented as soon as reasonably possible. If you identify a bona fide calculation dispute, please be prepared to present us with your alternative calculations when we meet on September 14, 2016. If we do not have an agreement on the calculations by the conclusion of that meeting, we will invoke the Arbitrator’s reserved jurisdiction to have him determine the numbers.”

Levine was referring to a federal arbitrator who issued an order Aug. 10 after union contract talks broke down and both sides went into arbitration. The order said that “supervisors and non-supervisors be compensated an equitable and fair amount of additional pay equal to the amount of money received by police officers and firefighters between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2016.”

The arbitrator’s order also said that “The assistance of accountants and other financial experts is encouraged if it is determined that this task is too difficult to implement without their assistance” in deciding exact amounts due each employee.

Negotiations between the union and city over the ‘me too’ contract clause began in March 2015 after police and firefighters received pay raises under separate agreements. Teamsters #14 officials argued those raises kicked in a provision that requires the city to award pay raises to rank-and-file city employees also.

Sweetin announced at the Aug. 23 council meeting that the city had made an offer to the union on Apr. 22, the Friday before arbitration was set to begin. An email obtained by the MLN between he and Davis appears to confirm both sides had reached an agreement. “Just spoke to Fred [Horvath] and I am glad to hear that it sounds like we may have been able to come to an agreement and avoid the arbitration,” Davis said in the email

“Mr. Horvath didn’t have authorization to make a deal,” Davis said at the council meeting. “He had authority to have conversations.”

“Your union made an offer and we made an agreement with Fred,” Sweetin said Aug. 23. “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 a 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.