June 4, 2014

Guest column: Weighing in on the labor debate

By Mayor Greg Fischer

My administration has worked diligently to build excellent working relationships with both our non-union and union employees, so I’d like to fill in the information gaps in the article “Labor pains” that appeared in the May 21 edition of LEO Weekly.

Louisville Metro government currently has 27 different union contracts, each one requiring renegotiation at a defined date. This does not include the many side letters (clarifications and modifications) that arise in the normal course of business that need to be negotiated in good faith with each of our unions. Since coming into office, my administration has successfully negotiated 16 union contracts, one of which we completed before it expired, which is very unusual. Contracts should represent a balance between fiscal reality and the interest of employees for higher wages, so sometimes negotiations take time to resolve.

Regarding the May 21 article, Wes Stover, president of AFSCME Local 2629, said that 40 city workers had signed union cards to join AFSCME but had not been recognized by the administration. This fact is correct and is in agreement with the contract negotiated with and agreed to by Stover. Per the contract, no employee can enter the union without a side letter agreement. As soon as the side letter is negotiated, the employees will be recognized. This process usually takes two weeks, but due to the negotiations taking place with Stover, this side letter has not been negotiated and executed.

Next, Stover said that the reorganization of the Air Pollution Control District will “put 15 of our 19 members out of a job.” Unfortunately, Metro has to make changes that affect the employees’ jobs when those changes are considered in the best qualitative or economic interest of our citizens. While the number of layoffs necessary for the reorganization has not been finalized, I can assure Stover that the number is certain to be less than nine. Importantly, the reorganization and layoffs are fully in accord with the collective bargaining agreement Stover negotiated and agreed to.

Metro government is also accused of cutting back on hours and jobs at Metro Technology Services by hiring subcontractors. The fact is, no employee’s work hours have been reduced, and the collective bargaining agreement (again, negotiated and agreed to by Stover) allows for the hiring of subcontractors.

As for the accusation that Metro government has frozen the wages of employees at Metro Technology Services, the Revenue Commission and the Louisville Zoo, Stover must know that these groups voted down the contracts that he had helped to negotiate. In such a case, the expired contract remains in effect until a new contract can be negotiated and passed, as happened at the Zoo on April 18 of this year.

In addition, Metro government has never tried to “slide in” changes during negotiations. All have been undertaken in good faith, and all provisions have been presented to Stover before being agreed to.

Finally, Stover made a personal attack against my Labor Liaison, O’Dell Henderson, calling him “rude, arrogant and disrespectful.” Emotions can run high on all sides during negotiations. However, simply being told “No” at the bargaining table does not constitute rude, arrogant or disrespectful behavior. Henderson works in the best interests of our citizens and this administration with both professionalism and passion. He is a valued member of my team.

City employees are working to continuously improve, and I am proud of the work we are all doing in Metro government, union and non-union employees alike. We are diligent in adhering to every provision of our agreements with the unions and will continue to negotiate all contracts in good faith. This is no less than our employees and citizens expect, and this is what my administration promises. 

Such A Shame

By HelenCares
Ask yourself: If Metro employees are so appreciated, why don't they know it? If the union does such a bad job, why is union membership 76% (per Metro HR) and growing? Why do employees in job classifications sign cards or vote in the union at rates like 66% and 80%? Whatever the reason, it won't be resolved by holding employee contracts, status and pay in limbo for years. Metro has a long history of slipping changes into agreements at signature time. The greater disappointment is this practice didn't end with a new administration. If not recognizing employees was in accordance with the contract, would the Mediator have ordered them to immediately allow the employees into the union? It is a shame this Administration has taken such a divisive turn. These tactics threaten to overshadow fiscal and innovative progress with silly games like East End against Downtown, a revolving door & deaf ear for employees, and continued defunding of local service agencies. It wouldn't take much effort for this administration to make Metro Government a top notch employer. For starters, let's see a dose of that compassion they brag about.

Such A Shame

By HelenCares
Ask yourself: If Metro employees are so appreciated, why don't they know it? If the union does such a bad job, why is union membership 76% (per Metro HR) and growing? Why do employees in job classifications sign cards or vote in the union at rates like 66% and 80%? Whatever the reason, it won't be resolved by holding employee contracts, status and pay in limbo for years. Metro has a long history of slipping changes into agreements at signature time. The greater disappointment is this practice didn't end with a new administration. If not recognizing employees was in accordance with the contract, would the Mediator have ordered them to immediately allow the employees into the union? It is a shame this Administration has taken such a divisive turn. These tactics threaten to overshadow fiscal and innovative progress with silly games like East End against Downtown, a revolving door & deaf ear for employees, and continued defunding of local service agencies. It wouldn't take much effort for this administration to make Metro Government a top notch employer. For starters, let's see a dose of that compassion they brag about.

Retired and not sorry

By oSOretired
Yes, a shame. The employees know there are few 'working' relationships. That's why so many retire, change jobs or count the days until they can. Employees work to "continuously improve" while more barriers appear from upper levels of management who are OFTEN rude, arrogant and disrespectful, between smiles. It's a "gotcha game" with ever changing rules. To tell the truth, upper management is often arbitrary, impatient, and uncaring about best practices and the community they serve. Why would the Union be treated any better? Who does upper management like the least? Unions and anyone too successful who competes for their glory. Meanwhile, much gnashing of teeth over low morale among the little people while upper management eats their own. Just consider me much happier ever since I left the devolution.