Employees cite ‘no confidence’ in administrator

The city’s union members may take their issues to the council tonight.

A contract dispute between city employees and management appeared to have soured this week, with disclosure that a formal “statement of no confidence” in Administrator Mary Jo Briggs is being circulated among unionized workers.

Obtained by the Review, the document – attributed to the International Association of Machinists Lodge 160 and the “Committee to Create the Statement of No Confidence” – indicates that it will be presented at this week’s council meeting, although that could not be confirmed. A union business representative failed to return repeated calls, and a shop steward at City Hall declined commment.

Briggs, who said she had read the document, expressed “disappointment” that the contract dispute had “turned personal.”

“I understand they need a lightning rod for this, and I’m willing to be the lightning rod,” Briggs said. “But at some point we need to come back to the table and solve the problem.”

The document’s disclosure comes two weeks after the council passed a formal resolution expressing confidence in Briggs’ handling of union negotiations.

The city and and its largest collective bargaining unit have been at odds since last fall, unable to reach agreement on a new contract for the 100 or so employees represented by the IAM.

The union represents all employees except department heads, top-level managers, the administrator and confidential secretaries. Bainbridge police officers are represented by a separate guild.

Echoing union sentiments when contract talks broke down two months ago, the statement of no confidence puts the blame squarely on Briggs.

“In an astoundingly short time, Ms. Briggs has driven an iron-cast wedge in our cooperation and teamwork,” the statement says. A letter to employees accompanying the document suggests that Briggs believes employees are “stupid,” and “so far beneath her on the food chain that we have no feelings.”

Earlier this year, union representatives said they were unhappy about Briggs’ decision to not participate directly in contract talks. She instead delegated negotiations to a bargaining team comprised of the city human resources and public works directors, and a pair of labor relations consultants who have worked with the city since 1992.

In the statement, employees say the move “impeded the bargaining process and constituted an unfair labor practice.”

After contract talks failed in February over issues of wages, job classifications and medical coverage, the dispute went to mediation.

A tentative agreement was reached in late March, but the new contract reportedly was voted down by employees on April 15.

The union has yet to make a counter-proposal, Briggs said.

According to the statement, employees remain upset that the city’s “final and best offer” included cost of living raises of 1.9 percent – less than the 3 percent sought by the union – when upper managers last year received raises ranging from 10-16 percent.

City officials said those hikes were based on a salary survey that showed top managers were being paid less than similar positions in comparably sized cities.

Another sticking point is a proposal to curtail benefits.

Employees have heretofore had coverage under what is known as “Plan A,” a premium health insurance package covered 100 percent by the city.

Citing escalating health care costs, the city has asked workers to accept a monthly contribution by employees.

“What you’ll hear at a gut level is that they feel devalued,” she said. “That to me is disappointing. We’re all in this together, and we have to solve our problems together.”

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