RI Labor Relations Board: Tie goes to the Warwick Crossing Guard Union
As the ProJo is reporting the State Labor Relations Board has found in favor of the Warwick Crossing Guard union, 1 1/2 years after it appealed the City’s decision to make the position non-union (and non-benefit). Labor won with a 3-3 tie, with Chairman Walter J. Lanni (Representing Management), Frank Montanaro and John Copabianco (both representing Labor) finding for the union while the Gerald Goldstein and Elizabeth Dolan (representing management) and Ellen Jordan (representing the public) found against it. (The third labor seat is not filled–maybe Montanaro and Copabianco effectively have 1.5 votes? Hey, just sayin’, it’s Rhode Island after all!). Basically, the Board takes the City to task for having the temerity to impose management rights:
The Union has proven, by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, that the Employer committed a violation of R.I.G.L. 28-7-13 (6) and (10) by failing to engage on statutory dispute mechanism procedures and by unilaterally repudiating the employment relationship and unilaterally implementing new terms and conditions of employment for Crossing Guards.
The Board seems to have justified their decision by citing the 30 year history of collective bargaining for the position and the fact that the City Council apparently took too long to reject a tentative proposal negotiated by the union and Mayor Avedisian’s office and, perhaps most importantly, of short-circuiting the aforementioned bargaining process by putting the work up for bid by a private contractor. The city is appealing the decision. The finding also calls attention to the divided management that goes on in Warwick, which seems to have been the chink in the armor that the union successfully exploited:
The record indicates, however, that no members of the City Council were members of the Employer’s negotiating team. This Board is very concerned about the apparent disconnect between the City’s “Administration” and the City’s Political Leaders relative to the negotiation of this Contract. Forcing the Union to negotiate with representatives that have no real authority to negotiate is not indicative of good faith. In his email of November 14, 2007 to Union representative Donald lannazzi, Mr. Shelton states: “I don’t pretend to have any idea whether or not this proposal will satisfy the Council and I know that it would be difficult for you to accept a deal without that assurance, but, given the circumstances, it’s the best we can do.” With all due respect to Mr. Shelton, whom this Board recognizes to be between the proverbial “rock and hard place”, it is not acceptable for the City to conduct collective bargaining negotiations with its Unions through such a disjointed and ill-informed process. The reasonable inference here is that the true power to settle the Contract lies with the City Council, which has political differences with the Mayor’s administration. This is an issue beyond the Union’s control.
How many other cities and towns have the same situation? Sheesh. If you’re going to negotiate with a union, you can bet they’re gonna offer a united front. Wouldn’t it behoove city management (Administration and City Councils) to do the same from the get go? Apparently so.
ADDENDUM: As commenters point out (and I should have!), the City of Warwick Charter includes a separation of powers such that the Mayor and his office negotiates contracts while the City Council ratifies. No cross-polination allowed.
ADDENDUM 2: I have been reminded that this situation was predicted by former Warwick City Councilman Robert Cushman.
In announcing the firings in a press release late Friday afternoon, Avedisian attempted to portray his action as an improvement over the privatization plan championed by Cushman and modeled on the actions taken by the City of Cranston, which replaced their crossing guards with employees of a private company, NESCTC Security Agency. But Cushman said Avedisian’s scheme raises more questions than it answers and may be nothing more than a phony effort by the Mayor to make it look like he is trying to save money when in fact he is seeking to preserve the status quo.
“By embarking on this plan, the Mayor faces two choices—he can hire new, inexperienced crossing guards which will put the safety of children at risk or he can hire the same crossing guards back to their old jobs without the benefits,” said Cushman. “I believe the Mayor’s game plan is hire the same people back without benefits, which will undoubtedly lead to an unfair labor practice and a court order which restores union status and benefits to the crossing guards.”