September 29, 2009

RI Labor Relations Board: Tie goes to the Warwick Crossing Guard Union

Marc Comtois

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.”

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The Warwick City Council by ordinance has the power to ratify contracts not negotiate them.

The authority to negotiate contracts rests with the mayor and mayor alone.

The labor board insisting that a member of the council participate in negotiations, "The record indicates, however, that no members of the City Council were members of the Employer's negotiating team" is flawed.

Posted by: flawed at September 29, 2009 3:59 PM

"Flawed" is correct. A member of the city council cannot be part of any negotiating team. It violates the City Charter.

Posted by: Chris at September 29, 2009 4:25 PM

This state is so full of pigs who suck, suck, suck on the public teat.

And every freaking govt'l job is patronage. I can't stand it. Publicly we lie to each other: "On yeah, I applied and got this job because of my education/experience/training." In private, we tell each other the truth: "I got this job because cousin Eddy is on the council and he knowed I needed a low stress job with benefits ever since Apex fired me for stealin'."

I hate this state. And I was born, raised and educated here.

Oh well. Its only a temporary loss. The crushing state deficit will be transfered by the General Asembly onto the cities and towns. There won't be any cash left to maintain these patronage jobs.

That's one good result of this Great Recession.

Posted by: Arthur Nelson IV at September 29, 2009 5:34 PM

I'm reminded of something I read in the parer today, quoting of all people, Rep. Barney Frank: "Heads they win, tails they break even." This is the kind of stuff that you can expect if binding arbitration becomes the law, which is why it is important to defeat it this session.

Posted by: Will at September 29, 2009 5:48 PM

20 hour a week crossing guards with lifetime healthcare , a pension, 10 sick days, etc.
When I first moved here 5 years ago, that struck me as quite unbelievable.

5 years later and I'm still speechless.

Posted by: Bob at September 29, 2009 11:45 PM

Full time pay and an exorbitant benefits package for a part-time job requiring no education or skills. Only in RI can one manufacture a defense for such a crime. Anywhere else, it’s robbery with intent to inflict bodily injury with a stop sign. . .

Posted by: Sara at September 29, 2009 11:51 PM

The state's labor relations board is irrelevant. They have no authority to impose anything on anyone. Avedisian needs to do what Gov. Carcieri does with this board and their rulings, ignore them.

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2009 7:03 AM

Let's not forget. Avedisian fought tooth-and-nail on behalf of the union to keep the crossing guards. Only when pressured by the City Council, and public opinion, did he favor firing them.

Here's an excerpt from a February LTE I wrote in response to an Ed Achorn column on the subject:

I agree with Edward Achorn, “The legacy costs of all the sweet deals that politicians have cut with public-employee unions over the years – in exchange for support on election day – are catching up with taxpayers all over the Ocean State…” Crossing guards a microcosm of R.I. Crisis” Providence Journal, October 23, 2007. Consider Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian’s waffling over the past year on the subject of crossing guards. You just know another Republican has already left the party when he makes the Democrats look like reformers. Apparently because he values his relationship with the Laborers International Union of North America more than his obligation to the Warwick taxpayers, Mayor Avedisian has been playing up small concessions from the Crossing-guards’ Union while resisting all options that might result in greater savings. The Warwick City Council, led by former Cranston Director of Economic Development Robert Cushman has been pressing the Mayor to request outside bids since February. Only after the City Council demanded a better deal for the taxpayers did the Mayor agree to solicit bids from outside security firms who could potentially save the city millions as did former Mayor Stephen Laffey in Cranston. But, Laffey and Avedisian are not apples-to-apples Republican Mayors. During the fight that led to the firing of Cranston’s crossing guards, there was never any doubt about Laffey’s conviction. During Laffey’s tenure, the Cranston taxpayers would always come before special interest groups.
Mr. Achorn also describes Avedisian as “often touted for higher office”. I would ask the “tout-ers” to take a hard look at what happened to the national Republican Party in 2006 (and 2008) when it drifted too far from the principles of limited and responsible government.

Posted by: George at September 30, 2009 11:29 AM

CORRECTION: not February. The LTE was published in November of 2007

Posted by: George at September 30, 2009 11:33 AM

>>Tie goes to the [fill in the blank] Union

Isn't that Rhode Island's state motto?

Posted by: Ralph at September 30, 2009 7:06 PM
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