Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mayor Chavez: Flip-flopper on binding arbitration?

from the New Mexico Independent

By Marjorie Childress 08/27/2008 79 Views -->
Andrew Padilla, president of public employees union AFSCME Council 18, calls Mayor Martin Chavez’s threat to veto a bill passed last week by the Albuquerque City Council a “punch in the gut to labor.”
That’s because of what the mayor said last fall during his short-lived Senate race.
According to Padilla, Chavez came to the AFSCME union hall to speak with blue-collar workers and union representatives last fall to drum up support for his Senate campaign. During that visit, Padilla said, the mayor clearly voiced support for a binding arbitration measure like the one passed by the City Council.
“When he was running for the Senate last fall, he was for this measure,” Padilla said. “He came down to the union hall and said, in front of blue-collars and union reps, that he was in favor of binding arbitration for noneconomic issues. He said that. His vow to now veto this bill is a big deal for us. It’s a punch in the gut to labor from Marty Chavez.”
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to inquiries by the Independent asking for the mayor’s recollections of last year's campaign visit, or to questions in general about his thoughts on how to resolve the union’s concerns.
The New Mexico Public Employee Bargaining Act provides for forced arbitration to break through an impasse during labor contract negotiations. In such a case, an approved arbitrator is agreed to by both parties and has the final say on unresolved issues. The cost of arbitration is borne equally by both sides.
But when the act was signed into law in 2003, it grandfathered in municipal ordinances already in effect. One of those is the City of Albuquerque Labor-Management Relations Ordinance. The city ordinance allows the two sides to voluntarily enter into binding resolution, but does not allow either side to force the other into arbitration for unresolved issues.
Padilla told the Independent that he could not recall the city ever agreeing to enter into voluntary arbitration to resolve an impasse during contract negotiations, and attributes this to the city knowing that it can simply impose a contract in the end since public employees don't have the right to strike.
For this reason, he said, the city’s labor ordinance has long hampered genuine negotiations between the city and it’s public employees.
“Negotiations really aren’t negotiations if the employer can just impose a contract on you in the end,” Padilla said. “In the past, when we’ve reached an impasse and mediation hasn’t worked, we’ve sent a letter requesting arbitration. Then they say no.”
When asked about concerns that the bill would constitute a “substantial” change, which under the state statute would end the grandfathering provision and make the city ordinance null and void, Padilla said it was pure speculation. Different attorneys say different things, he said, and in any event Councilor Debbie O’Malley offered an amendment to the bill that would make the binding arbitration provision null and void should it be declared a “substantial” change in court.
Other concerns are that the bill would make it difficult for the city to schedule workers when and where they are needed. Padilla said that would not be the case either since O’Malley added an amendment to the bill exempting “management rights.”
Under the City’s labor ordinance, management rights have the following definition:

Subject to existing law, the Mayor and his administrative staff shall have the following rights:
(A) To direct the work of its employees;
(B) To hire, promote, evaluate, transfer and assign employees;
(C) To demote, suspend, discharge or terminate employees for just cause;
(D) To determine staffing requirements;
(E) To maintain the efficiency of the city government and ensure the carrying out ofnormal management functions;
(F) To take actions as may be necessary to carry out the mission of the citygovernment in emergencies; and
(G) To manage and to exercise judgment on all matters not specifically prohibitedby this article or by a collective bargaining agreement in effect between the city employer and an employee organization.

Padilla argues that staffing questions regarding when and where employees would be assigned to work falls under management rights that are exempt from the bill. O’Malley also amended the bill to exclude drug use policy.
There are a whole host of other issues that fall outside of economic issues, management rights, and drug use policy, that are the subject of contract negotiations. Current city contracts can be seen on this Web page.
The table of contents in each shows the scope of issues covered. The City Council passed the bill 5-3, with Councilor Sally Mayer absent. To override the mayor’s veto, Mayer would need to provide the sixth vote in favor of the bill.
Padilla said his union will challenge the city’s ordinance in court if necessary in an attempt to bring it in line with the arbitration provisions in the state statute.