The city’s blue collar public works union has charged the municipality of engaging in unfair labor practice for repeatedly failing to sign an agreement hammered out in presence of a mediator, according to a complaint filed with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) on Tuesday.
The complaint alleges the city five times reneged on finalizing a memorandum of agreement with the AFSCME Council 52, Local 2272. This after both sides reached a tentative agreement in the presence of a mediator on June 14th, 2016 after five rounds of mediator involved negotiations, according to the complaint.
Michael Jackson, president of Local 2272, distributed copies of complaint to council members on Tuesday night. Each time the union and the city appeared to have resolved the outstanding issues and the union signed off on it, the city would return with other items to revise, according to the complaint.
For example, the city wanted to revise two overtime assignment provisions in the contract right after the union signed the tentative agreement. The union agreed to revise the provisions, but then the city came back and wanted to eliminate the provisions entirely, reads the complaint.
Council members expressed grave concerns over the impasse between the union and the city. Law director Domenick Stampone, who faced a barrage of questions, said the move was designed to “ambush” the administration.
“I’m disturbed by it. The men and women of DPW [Department of Public Works] are the lowest paid employees in the city and they are also some of the homeowners, “ said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said the city seems to negotiate in good faith with police and fire unions, but fails to do the same with public works unions.
“The bare minimum is these negotiations are being conducted in good faith,” said Morris. The complaint states the city has failed to negotiate in good faith.
“What happened here?” asked Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration. “Where was the breakdown in communication?”
Business administrator Nellie Pou was reluctant to answer questions about the negotiation stating the council needs to allow the administration do its job.
Pou said the city does not have a signed agreement with the union. “All I can say is there’s no MOU signed and agreed to by both parties,” she said. She would not answer whether a mediator prepared a memorandum of agreement.
The business administrator said it’s not appropriate for her to divulge further information.
Council president William McKoy said the council is entitled to basic facts of the process like whether there was a meditator and whether an agreement was prepared.
“Was there a mediator?” asked McKoy
“I can’t respond to that,” responded Pou. “The discussion is still ongoing.”
The business administrator said two attorneys and a mediator met for the negotiation sessions. Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, said the council should be privy to the negotiations. He said the administration should apprise the council of the status of the agreement in an executive session.
“We’re nowhere in the process,” remarked Stampone. The city has struck agreements with all the other public works unions, said officials.
The one remaining union without a contract is local 2272. Their contract expired on July 1st, 2014. There was an impasse in negotiations in January of this year which prompted the involvement of a mediator.
Torres administration officials would not tell council members when a finalized agreement can be expected. In an odd twist, several times Torres received support from public works employees as he picked budget battles with the council. For example, when the mayor was at an impasse, where the council refused to pass temporary budgets earlier in the year citing the mayor’s propensity to overspend, public works employees filled the council chambers, forcing the council to approve spending measures to ensure city employees would receive their paychecks.
“No one said anything to us as council people,” said Ruby Cotton,4th Ward councilwoman. “It doesn’t take four or five months to get something signed. It’s not fair.”