By Dan Mariscal
Bargaining Team Without a Bargain
The whole point and principle to electing, seating and supporting a bargaining team is so that the process of negotiating and agreeing to employment terms, with your employer, is done by the members, for the members. Better known as collective bargaining. On this, lies the groundwork and foundation for all public and private union existence. If that’s not what we, as union members, are fighting for in Wisconsin, and everywhere else it has come under attack, than we are being hypocritical….or worse….we’re being taken for “a ride” by our union leadership.
I’ve just come from a group discussion, not comprised of “selected” members, but of very concerned rank and file members of several bargaining units, Departments and/or Bureaus mostly represented by the Coalition of City Unions. And, yes, there was also a member of the 721 LA/OC bargaining team, who was present at the bargaining team meeting where these proposals were first disclosed.
At our rank and file meeting, a number of concerns were raised about this “deal” and I’d like to share them, with all of us …..without a “selective invitation.
The way things are done tells us a lot about what’s being done.
Our “elected” bargaining team did not negotiate or bargain anything, on our behalf. They were summoned together for the sole purpose of informing them what was already formulated by City Leadership and Coalition Union Staff, without any meaningful input, independent discussion, deliberation or scrutiny by our “bargaining team”. The City Leadership and Coalition Union Staff, gave a power point presentation, emphasizing “no more furloughs”, to a captive audience (bargaining team), fed the captive audience food and then held a “vote”. There was no deliberation in private among the bargaining team members, no group caucus, no time to do any research, independently crunch the numbers and also conducted under the watchful eye of the “minders”; Eric “I want to be Mayor and need this deal to pass, Julie” Garcetti and Miguel “I want to be known as the union buster” Santana. There is no point to having a bargaining team, if all that they’re there for is to assist in a “dog and pony show”. That is not collective bargaining, that is a collective railroading and that says a great deal about this “deal”.
The “Bums Rush” syndrome.
Those of us who have been on a negotiating team, or bargaining team, are familiar with the process of reaching a negotiated settlement. You just don’t come to one meeting and take an up or down vote on a single proposal issued by City management. There is a process of defining the issues, proposals and counter proposals, caucusing in private, doing independent research and even some debate and deliberating among the bargaining team as to pro’s and con’s of what’s on the table, and long and short term effects of how these proposals, if implemented as intended, will effect the general membership. Either way, it does not consist of only one meeting.
So, why the rush? Its not that hard to figure out, if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on at City Hall. It’s all about timing. There’s a couple of things at play here, one being the Mayor needs to leave City Hall with some kind of legacy, or “accomplishment” so he can vie for a higher office and keep his political career alive. Another is the fact that Mr. Garcetti is running for Mayor and he needs to point to a “significant accomplishment” as City Council President, to the press and the voters. Another point is that Miguel Santana needs to get his budget document in by April 18, 2011. These are political reasons, not practical ones.
For us, there is no rush. As well, there shouldn’t be. If this were a “legitimate contractual” offer, then we should have ample time to debate, discuss and scrutinize this “proposal”. Also, that fact that our fiscal year doesn’t end until June 30, 2011 calls into question the “urgency” of this vote that is being rammed down our collective throats. As we have experienced before, highlighted summaries of the proposal abound, but the details (actual text) have to be hunted and flushed out. And as we have also experienced, the devil is in the details. The “headlines” of our past concessionary campaign in 2009, were that we would “avoid layoffs and furloughs”, remember? Of course we all know how that worked out…..don’t we?
Keep in mind that the same steady drone of threats of layoffs and furloughs is what held our members in a state of panic and anxiety. The official-looking budgetary documents that were being spewed out by the CAO, spun by our union staff and were being swallowed by the members….hook, line and sinker. The first clue should have been the constantly changing number of layoffs that were being threatened; 500, 700, 1000…1900 at one point, and rumors were circulating that as much as 4,000 would be “subject” to layoffs.
As it turned out the use of “fear” was very successful, and the “deal” was ratified by the members. As we all know, that deal didn’t save us; hundreds were laid off anyway and the idea of “shared sacrifice” turned out to be a sham, as only 10,897 were furloughed. As a result, our membership was divided up by Department, further divided by Bureaus, and further divided up even more within bargaining units. We pay our union to keep us unified, not to assist in our division and further our weakness.
These are the consequences of not independently and fully debating and/or discussing proposals. This is what happens when our “bargaining process” is by-passed or not fully and properly implemented. I’m not blaming our bargaining team, for what happened in 2009. Let me be clear on this. But, if our bargaining team has been “together” since 2006, and it’s now 2011, they should have a good deal of experience behind them, at this point. We should all learn from our experiences…that should be part of life. To allow ourselves to be Bum Rushed into another debacle, would be a disservice to our membership. Period.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to arrive at the conclusion that you’ve been hornswoggled. As in the “Peanuts” cartoon characters, Lucy always seems successful at persuading poor Charlie Brown to try a field goal attempt. Each time managing to rationalize why Charlie Brown should trust her to hold the ball in place, and each time snatching the ball away at the last second, leaving poor Charlie Brown to fall right on his keester, while Lucy gloats in her power of persuasion. As in our present situation, we’re being asked to “trust” the same people that broke our last agreement. The irony is that, we haven’t even finished litigating the last “breech of contract”, and now we’re being asked to ratify a new one.
Let’s not fool ourselves here, or at least allow ourselves to be fooled by others, there are trust issues involved here; as well there should be. This makes the actual text of the language all the more important. Will there be a clause, in the “new” proposal that will give up our pending litigation? They did it to EAA, with little or minimal effort. We don’t know if that’s going to be on the actual text. And we need to know. It should be clear and simple that unless this text is disclosed in a timely manner, there should be a NO vote.
While we may not be able to take our “team” to another City, we can and should continue to litigate the current breaches to the full extent of the law. There going to do what they want to anyway, why make it easy for them?
As for talk of decertification; I’ve heard it, too. While I don’t advocate decertification, or unions raiding each others membership, I have been asked, frequently, about decertification. In fact, very frequently. I’ve explained the certification process pursuant to the ERB’s Rules and Regulations and have used the “acquisition” of MOU’s 8 & 17, as an example. But that’s as far as I go, on that subject.
The problem I have is that I don’t have an answer to their frustration. Sadly, the Union itself, and its lackadaisical manner of representation and ignoring members demands, seems to be fueling this subject. If the Union would like to hear positive comments from the majority of its members, then they will have to demonstrate transparency, accountability and responsibility. Not to the union staff’s satisfaction, but to the members’ satisfaction. The members who pay dues have a right to expect this, whether or not they show up at every possible union meeting. That’s just plain common sense and respect.
Why a Three Year Contract?
As an experienced union negotiator should know, when in bad times; you negotiate for a short term contract. When in good times, you negotiate for longer terms. Point in reference; the 2007-20012 Contract. This was for an unprecedented 5 years and was for over an 18% raise. The one prior to this 2007-2012 contract was for about 2-3 years and totaled no more than about 3%.
This 2007-2012 contract has been steadily eroded and degraded since our union was changed to SEIU Local 721. Has anyone noticed? Whose idea was this current proposal? Our bargaining team submitted no proposal. In fact they weren’t even in on the actual deal making.
If you’ve been listening to the news, reading the paper, it shows that, slowly but surely, the economic slump has hit bottom and the recovery has begun. [CAO:The City’s revenue would also increase even more if we could just nail down these pesky unsworn civilian employees to a lowball 3-year contract. Besides, if we can hornswoggle these civilian employees the City could leverage this into a lowball contract for the Fire and Police.] A three-year contract is just too long for the position that we’re in now. This is not in our best interests.
Getting Involved in Our Union
This would be great, if only our union would start putting the dates of all the various relevant meetings on the 721 Website Calendar. More times than not, you won’t find them on there. And on top of that, if you do happen to find out about them, they could be canceled the night before. It’s like our union, doesn’t want us to be more involved. Getting involved is no easy task, and the present situation only discourages members from getting involved. Don’t they want to “face the music”?
Although there are those that feel that there will be consequences of cosmic proportions if the proposals are not ratified, the evidence just doesn’t support this. The evidence supports a more uncertain outcome. We already know what happened to the last contract that we ratified and there is just no evidence that any nuclear event is on the horizon, if this proposal is voted down. What we can expect is more layoff threats, more furlough threats and the sound of genuine panic in the voices of the union staff.
Let me offer Exhibit A.
Last Wednesday March 23, 2011 Miguel Santana told the City Council, that he “found” $50 Million dollars, which shaved down the current deficit…..by over 90%! Pretty lucky find, right? Wrong. Luck had nothing do with it, and if you buy that, I’ve got some stock in the Golden Gate Bridge that you’ll really find interesting. Which brings us to the real strategy at play here.
The Carrot and the Stick
The carrot is a nice fact juicy tidbit showcased in bright lights and bold type; NO MORE FURLOUGHS! I have to admit that this does sound promising…doesn’t it? But wait, there’s some very small print towards the bottom: Only if you quickly agree to an, including by not limited to, 11% contribution to your retirement, step raise deferrals, conditional cash OT and whatever else we insert in this contract that you may or may not see.
Dan Mariscal Has been a union steward, member of bargaining teams, union activist, and leader of numerous employee grievances gaining members the protections and wages they deserved for over a decade.