Labor Relations in the Dark

According to a press release from the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (printed in full in the extended entry), without public discussion, the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board has declined to consider the East Providence School Committee’s complaint against the union:

“The State Labor Relations Board reported it has dismissed unfair labor practice charges filed by the East Providence School Committee against the teacher’s union alleging failure to bargain in good faith (ULP-5933),” said William Felkner, president of OSPRI, “but we learned this after hearing the news that they did issue a complaint based on the same circumstances filed as charges by the union against the school committee (ULP-5946).”
As background, complaints by the Board reflect that the charges have jurisdictional substance and may give rise to a finding of unfair labor practice. They are not meant to reflect on the merits of the case but lead to a formal hearing to weigh those merits.
The extensive submission of the School Committee details compromises offered by management and intransigence by the Union in attempting to set conditions for negotiation in over 3 pages of documentation for the basis of the charges. These are only allegations that have not (and apparently will not) have a hearing, but it is remarkable that the Board should have thought such serious charges if true, did not amount to a refusal to bargain.
Yet, the board did find evidentiary circumstance that may constitute bad faith on the part of the school committee based on a complaint consisting of 2 sentences that quote the school committee as saying that “no substantive discussion had occurred [].” This is not to say that a charge cannot be brief and to the point, but the mere fact that no discussion has occurred offers no evidence whatsoever as to what party is responsible for the breakdown in negotiations and who is really refusing to come to the table. Both sides essentially alleged that the other wouldn’t come to the table, yet one set of charges was sustained and the other dismissed.
“How the SLRB made this decision is puzzling and will remain so because the decisions are made behind closed doors,” said Felkner. “Why these decisions are made outside of public view is one more mystery.”

In the executive-session-discussed view of the Labor Relations Board, all of the discord in East Providence is apparently the fault of either unfair practices on the school committee side or, well, the fickleness of nature, I suppose. The other party to negotiations may play by no-holds-barred rules.
OSPRI is kind to suggest only the “appearance” of bias.



President of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute today cautioned that the lack of transparency in State Labor Relations Board operations is leading fair-minded citizens to question whether the board is biased.
“The State Labor Relations Board reported it has dismissed unfair labor practice charges filed by the East Providence School Committee against the teacher’s union alleging failure to bargain in good faith (ULP-5933),” said William Felkner, president of OSPRI, “but we learned this after hearing the news that they did issue a complaint based on the same circumstances filed as charges by the union against the school committee (ULP-5946).”
As background, complaints by the Board reflect that the charges have jurisdictional substance and may give rise to a finding of unfair labor practice. They are not meant to reflect on the merits of the case but lead to a formal hearing to weigh those merits.
The extensive submission of the School Committee details compromises offered by management and intransigence by the Union in attempting to set conditions for negotiation in over 3 pages of documentation for the basis of the charges. These are only allegations that have not (and apparently will not) have a hearing, but it is remarkable that the Board should have thought such serious charges if true, did not amount to a refusal to bargain.
Yet, the board did find evidentiary circumstance that may constitute bad faith on the part of the school committee based on a complaint consisting of 2 sentences that quote the school committee as saying that “no substantive discussion had occurred [].” This is not to say that a charge cannot be brief and to the point, but the mere fact that no discussion has occurred offers no evidence whatsoever as to what party is responsible for the breakdown in negotiations and who is really refusing to come to the table. Both sides essentially alleged that the other wouldn’t come to the table, yet one set of charges was sustained and the other dismissed.
“How the SLRB made this decision is puzzling and will remain so because the decisions are made behind closed doors,” said Felkner. “Why these decisions are made outside of public view is one more mystery.”
In the vast majority of cases, these SLRB “executive sessions” do not contemplate confidential personal information or engage in “investigative” function. Rather, they generally constitute the board debating law and policy analysis applied to alleged facts and pleadings that are themselves public records.
The apparent use of the ‘civil investigations’ exemption to the open meetings law (RIGL 42-46-4 et seq) seems potentially a violation of the letter of the law and is certainly a violation of its spirit.
Furthermore, charges and pleadings, which are by rule and statute public documents, are not posted on the board’s web site. While not illegal, this omission is more evidence of an opacity that frustrates the public’s ability to track and understand the basis for “administrative dismissals” of charges such as those filed by the East Providence School Committee.
“Without any real explanation of why the Board dismissed the School Committee’s charges, OSPRI cannot charge that the Board is biased,” Felkner continued. “But, if the State Labor Relations Board wishes to allay growing suspicions that it is biased towards labor, records and process should be made accessible, the rational for administrative dismissals should be explained in each case, and any claim of exemption from open meetings law should be justified on both legal and prudential grounds on a case by case basis before erecting the shield of executive session.”

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Pat Crowley
12 years ago

Transparency? How about transparency with OSPRI’s agenda? Why aren’t they telling people that the majority of people on the State Labor Board are representatives of MANAGEMENT? That’s right. Management reps out number labor reps 3-2. The so called “neutral” is a Carcieri appointment. So are all the management appointees. If you are keeping track, that is a 4-2 balance in favor of management.
It takes a majority of the board to issue, or dismiss, a charge. That means labor NEVER has unilateral power on the labor board. Gee, I guess OSPRI didn’t know that.
Sounds like labor cronyism to me.
The only thing “in the dark” is the reasoning of OSPRI.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

I take it, then, that you’ll join OSPRI in calling for open dilberations of the labor board?

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

… um, Pat, if the State Labor Board is dominated by management, they sure are doing a good job hiding it.

Bill Felkner
12 years ago

The chair, Walter Lanni, served on the executive board of his firefighters’ union from 1973 to 1996 and he served with Montanaro on the Cranston firefighters for 10 years. He (supposedly) represents management on the Board. ???

thinkaboutit
thinkaboutit
12 years ago

Can’t AR get the documents through FOIA?

Will
12 years ago

The whole “management” vs. “union” rep thing they have going there is a sham at best. The whole construct of the board is meant to favor the interests of the unions, much in the same way as does the supposedly neutral arbitration process. It gives a way for the unions to hold a sword over the people’s necks, when they don’t get their way.
That they’re biased isn’t exactly a revelation to anyone who has ever heard of them, which is kind of the point. They operate in the shadows.
Anyway, given the straits that the city is in, whatever they eventually say will ultimately be of little importance. Let’s just put it this way: you really won’t like Plan B.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
12 years ago

Hey Pat,
Are you just playing stupid, or did you not know about Lanni, as expressed by Bill Felkner.
And, if you didn’t, do you still claim that he is representative of “management?”

Patrick
Patrick
12 years ago

Mike, he’s not playing.

Pat Crowley
12 years ago

And Lanni ended his career as Chief as was appointed by the Governor to be chair. EVEN IF Bill Felkner had his facts right for once that still leaves a 3-3 vote. It takes a majority, meaning Labor NEVER has the final say. And Monique, the only people hiding anything seem to be the ones driving that Transparency train.
And Justin, the board has plenty of open meetings, but like every other body, they have executive sessions.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
12 years ago

OK Pat, is this the beginning of a newfound respect for Carcieri by you. Carcieri is incompetent, like you have always maintained, and his appointment of Lanni is just one more example of that.
But back to you. Do you think for one minute that Lanni has a management-sensitive bone in his body after his career? Do you think we are that stupid? That’s the problem with you union hacks – you think that just because you say something, we have to believe it. But, this ain’t one of your little union meetings where the all the kool-aid drinking cowards just shake their heads in agreement every time their little thug leaders speak.
Lanni is in the tank for the unions. You know it, and I know it, and everyone on this blog knows it – so quit acting stupid.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
12 years ago

BTW Pat, what is it that Bill Felkner said that is not true??
Please tell us.

John
John
12 years ago

Why are we having this conversation? That early in his first term, Governor Carcieri made a very bad appointment to the SLB and that ever since the Board has voted heavily in labor’s favor has been an open secret for years. It has certainly been clear to companies considering a move to RI, and has provided yet another reason not to do so. There is no story here; the SLB’s on the EP issue have been easily, and sadly, predictable. Just like RI’s accelerating self-destruction.

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