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City, union at odds after arbitrator's decision regarding workforce

After nearly a year of considering a grievance filed by former city staff, an arbitrator has made a decision that favors four previously laid-off employees while also defending the city’s ability to reorganize its workforce.

David Nelson, Tom Oreiro, Chris St. Romain and Ray Navarette will be reinstated to employment with the city.

The city is currently negotiating with representatives from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents city staff, to implement the reinstatements and the layoffs that will likely come as a result.

Arbitrator Michael Cavanaugh’s decision essentially states that the city had a right to reorganize its workforce in 2010 to face financial difficulties, yet it didn’t do it the right way. He concluded that the city should have taken seniority into consideration during its staff reorganization, whereas the city intended to fill positions based on qualifications.

“(He) determined that the city has the right to reorganize the work of the city and change job classifications,” said City Manager Brenda Bauer. “However, he interpreted the parties’ collective bargaining agreement to require the city to do so strictly by order of seniority where the reorganization basically reflects a downsizing in city government.”

According to Bauer, it is too early to tell how the reinstatements will have an effect on current city staff. The city will still have to complete negotiations with the labor union, but she added that layoffs are likely to occur. This echoes Cavanaugh’s conclusions, which noted that the reinstatements will most likely cause a “domino effect” on one or more less senior employees.

Negotiations were tense Monday as the city sat down with representatives of the IAMAW.

“It was like somebody dropped a pile of crap in the middle of the table,” said Mike Goddard, assistant directing business representative of District 160 IAMAW. “Brenda Bauer and her cohorts wanted to narrowly interpret the arbitration. It was mean-spirited, spiteful and vindictive…it just got really out of control, for now that’s where we are at.”

Goddard said the city had a plan with four people who could possibly be displaced by the reinstatement of the four employees. The city wanted to give these employees notice next Monday, but the union felt the employees should know immediately so they could further negotiate. After the meeting, union representatives met with the four employees who could possibly be laid off as a result of the reinstatements to apprise them of the situation — something that didn’t sit well with Bauer according to Goddard.

“We are in good faith discussions with labor working to resolve this matter. I do not in any way agree with Mr. Goddard’s depiction of the situation or our conversations," Bauer said. "That said, I am not willing to conduct negotiations in the press.”

Cavanaugh concluded that four out of eight employees who filed a grievance with the city in January 2011 should be reinstated with their seniority intact and “made whole” to make up for a year’s worth of lost wages and benefits.

The city was found not to be in violation of its employment agreement with three of the employees who filed a grievance, therefore, it will not be required to reinstate them.

The city was found to be in violation of its employment agreement with employee Katie Jones, but Cavanaugh felt both parties had already resolved the matter outside of arbitration. Goddard said that the IAMAW feels that the outside agreement with Jones shouldn’t affect her right to her job with the city and they will continue to fight for her reinstatement as well.

The negotiations in the wake of the arbitration results continue and Goddard said that the city will have to pay for financial retribution for the four employees.

“No. 1 you got their wages, No. 2 you got the city’s payment into PERS, and you got any health and welfare that came out of the employees pockets due the fact of what the city did,” Goddard said. “On top of that, you got all the expenses the city has gone through for hiring the legal firm to represent them. Their money is just racking up, and at this point we are halfway through it and we still want (Jones) back to work.”

In 2010, the city responded to a bad economy and a budget crisis with a series of layoffs. It went from 152 to 111 employees between 2007 and 2011. However at the end of 2010, the city handled its last round of layoffs differently than before.

It dissolved some positions altogether, then reworked the structure and responsibilities of city’s remaining job descriptions to incorporate the duties of the lost positions. This way, the city could operate with fewer employees and hopefully not fall short on its service to the public.

“The city had serious financial challenges that led to many changes in the city organization and budget, including the need to reorganize the work of the city, layoff employees…” Bauer said. “It was no longer possible to cut positions from an organization that was built for 152 employees when we needed to get down to about 111 (full time equivalent). The tasks had to be reorganized into different combinations, collapsing a lot of the work that was stratified, and creating more flexibility so we could continue to accomplish the core business of the city.”

With the city’s work load and responsibilities reorganized, some of the laid off staff were invited to reapply, but eight employees were not given this option.

There was an assertion during the arbitration process that employees were denied the ability to apply for positions after the reorganization due to their high seniority status, but Bauer maintains that is not exactly true. Because of past layoffs and the fact most staff at the city have considerable years of service, skills and experience were the primary factors in hiring.

The IAMAW filed a grievance for the eight employees with the argument that seniority was not considered when rehiring to fill vacant positions.


 

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