AFSCME Council 18

Cost No Object as New Mexico Elected Leaders Spend Big Tax Dollars Attacking Working Class Union Members

New Mexico Taxpayers are picking up the bill for politicians across New Mexico who opt to hire for-profit consultants to negotiate labor agreements in place of human resource departments who are traditionally tasked with the job.

Public human resource bureaus and in-house legal teams have an incentive to reach collective bargaining agreements with unions; getting employees back to work with the knowledge of their terms, conditions, and benefits of employment.  

The for-profit consultants now in vogue all the way from Taos to Hidalgo County have no motivation to conclude negotiations. While State, city and county management, and school boards argue that taxpayers are getting a good value for their money, the facts fail to back it up. 

“The longer negotiations drag out, the higher their billable hours stack up,” said Miles Conway, AFSCME NM Communications at last nights Albuquerque City Council meeting. “That is a disincentive to reach agreement.”

Management Associates Inc., by far the most popular labor relations company operating in New Mexico, has contracts for labor management relations with State, County, and Municipal Governments and School Boards across New Mexico.


City of Albuquerque

100 AFSCME Union Members showed up to last night’s Albuquerque City Council meeting to demonstrate their frustration with Management Associates’ and the Berry Administration’s handling of the collective bargaining agreements. 

City Council has approved a total of 6% in wage increases over the past four years but most AFSCME Union Members have not seen those raises. In order for the raises to go into effect, a collective bargaining agreement must be reached first. Each year, negotiations between AFSCME and the City have ended at impasse.

Impasse occurs when the two sides cannot agree to contract language. Typically, when impasse is reached, an arbiter is brought in to settle the contract. Once rare, impasse arbitration is more common where Management Associates has taken the lead, adding five figure costs to the labor negotiations process.

In four years, the City of Albuquerque has refused to take the contract to arbitration. Instead, the City has chosen to start negotiations from scratch each year. That has left employees without raises, previous year’s labor issues unresolved, and racked up over $420,000 in consultation fees for Management Associates. 

City of Albuquerque blue collar President Casey Padilla said, "the city's idea of bargaining from a blank sheet of paper disregards decades worth of good language that benefits both the citizens and the employees."

Over this period, AFSCME has won over a dozen arbitrations resulting from misapplication of labor law and collective bargaining rights.

“Factoring in the costs of litigation and arbitrations resulting from unprecedented years of impasse and attacks on Labor, it has been more costly for the City to fight with their working class employees than it would have been to reach compromise.” Said Rocky Gutierrez, AFSCME Staff Representative and Lead Negotiator for the AFSCME City Unions.

“By targeting so many of the workers’ fundamental rights that we’ve fought to maintain for 44 years, Management Associates is backing employees up against a wall, and then saying, ‘meet us halfway.’”

AFSCME is asking the Albuquerque City Council to end the lucrative stalemate and compel the Berry Administration and Management Associates to move into the arbitration phase.


State of New Mexico

Management Associates has enjoyed four years of contracts with the State of New Mexico without reaching agreements between the three major unions representing State Employees, AFSCME, CWA and the FOP. AFSCME estimates that those state contracts alone have cost the taxpayers over $400,000 with nothing to show. 

The State of New Mexico also contracted with Management Associates to negotiate with AFSCME's Child Care Providers Together, family child care providers who provide in-home child care which allows low-income families to afford quality child care so they can get and keep good jobs.  The parties have not reached an agreement and are scheduled for arbitration over several subjects that the state is mandated to bargain, but the management firm refuses to do so.  Once again, tax-payer dollars are siphoned from the state's general fund and into the management firms bank account.

Governor Martinez hired Management Associates to negotiate with the three Unions representing State Employees shortly after taking office. In four years, Governor Martinez has refused to meet with the Unions once.

"Despite running on platforms of transparency, some elected leaders prove least transparent when it comes to contract bargaining,” says Connie Derr, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 18. “They talk about the wonderful services provided to the citizens, all the while working to harm those who provide the services and the services themselves."


Educators

Both teachers’ unions, National Education Association New Mexico (NEA-NM) and American Federation of Teachers New Mexico (AFT-NM) report identical experiences with Management Associates. Negotiating for Rio Rancho School District, Management Associates spent four years stonewalling the AFT before reaching a contract agreement. The following contract took over a year to negotiate. Current negotiations have spanned 14 months and appear headed for impasse.

Over this time period, AFT-NM has prevailed on a half dozen prohibited practice complaints before New Mexico’s Labor Relations Board that have arisen from Management Associates misinterpretation of labor law. 
Counties

Dragging out the collective bargaining process isn’t the only way that tax payers are being bilked by for-profit consulting groups. At times, their loose grasp over established labor law comes back to bite treasuries in the butt. 

AFSCME recently won a $75,000 ruling against San Miguel County where some bad advise from Management Associates resulted in the County continuing an illegal practice of not paying O/T for detention officers. Here again, their flippant interpretation labor law seems deliberate. Management Associates bills $150 an hour for negotiations work, but when a legal challenge arises, the hourly rate jumps to $175 an hour. Win or lose, they get paid.

When Hidalgo County Public Safety Officers voted to form their union, the County hired Management Associates and the Holcomb Law Firm, both based in Albuquerque, to represent them at the negotiations table. As of July, Hidalgo has paid out over $40,000 to the consultants and negotiations are quickly heading to impasse.  "The only thing the consultant has successfully done is cause a division between the county and the employees, all while lining his pockets," said Derr. 

After mileage, chargeable driving time, hotel and meal expenses are calculated in, Hidalgo typically forks over $2,000 of hard earned tax payer money for an afternoon visit from the consultant.

Management Associates Inc. was started by John Martinez, and employs his daughter Dina Holcomb and Bob Brown. Both Brown and Holcomb have their own labor relations companies, often tag teaming with Management Associates. Management Associates will handle the negotiations at the table then, when a legal matter arises, it’s all in the family, as Holcomb Law takes over in court, before New Mexico’s Labor Relations Board, or in Arbitration.

Across the state, the narrative reads the same; Management Associates sits down with unions and proposes contract language that unions find unacceptable and irreparably harms workers. Management Associates rarely backs off of their original contract proposals and, as a result, negotiations drag out forever without progress.
 
Meanwhile, the consultants bill for every penny through the entire scope of their contract. Eventually, negotiations end up at impasse, in arbitration, court, or the consultant’s contract is renewed to continue their work in perpetuity.
 
“The movement towards using for-profit consultants in labor negotiations is fruitless by design for every party other than New Mexico’s cadre of for-profit labor consultants and politicians opposed to the workers' unions. The consultants enrich themselves as politicians advance an anti-worker ideology. It’s all on the taxpayer’s dime. The collateral damage is working class New Mexicans suffer by seeing workplace rights diminish as paychecks shrink.” Concludes Conway.


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