AFSCME Council 18

Union talk gridlock costs taxpayers [SF New Mexican]

Milan Simonich | Santa Fe New Mexican

What if you spent at least $125 an hour for a labor negotiator who billed you for two years but never settled any contract disputes?

You would be a New Mexico taxpayer.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration hired an Albuquerque company, Management Associates Inc., to head the state’s negotiating team in contract talks with employee unions.

No mention of Management Associates’ contract exists on the state’s Sunshine Portal, even though the website is supposed to contain public documents. But an open-records request turned up 75 pages of the company’s invoices. The total charges to taxpayers were more than $166,000, the records showed. The company’s payments were capped at $125,000 a year.

Even with heavy redactions by the state, the line-item billing records offer a flavor of the services provided by Management Associates:

• One invoice was for reviewing and responding to emails from Martinez and and another state employee. The time on this task was listed at 0.7 hours for a fee of $105. Reviewing emails was the most common work listed in the company’s billings.
• Opening day of contract negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers and the Communication Workers of America took 3.5 hours. The company charged $437.50.
• One-way travel time from Albuquerque to Santa Fe drew a consistent fee of $125 for company employees. On top of charges for travel time, Management Associates always added a mileage fee of $62.50.
• A conference call brought the company a fee of $165. The entry contained no details on the participants or purpose of the call.
• Management Associates charged $600 for an emergency arbitration hearing lasting four hours. The invoice contained no particulars, but this work was outside the scope of contract negotiations.
• The company’s contract with the state government lasted two years. Its rates were $125 an hour for “professional labor negotiations” and $150 an hour for legal services.

In that period, 2011 until the middle of last year, negotiations resulted in no contract settlements. Now the state says it is at an impasse with two unions, AFSCME and CWA, and wants the contract disputes to be resolved by arbitrators. Both unions have declined to respond with a final settlement offer. They want negotiations to continue.
Another state union, the Fraternal Order of Police, is heading to arbitration in its contract stalemate with the administration.

One might think that, by awarding a company a two-year contract to conduct labor negotiations, Martinez set herself up for a protracted process. What incentive would the company have to settle contracts if it kept getting paid for negotiations that plodded along with no end in sight?

Enrique Knell, the governor’s press secretary, says the only stalling was by the unions. Evergreen clauses in the contracts keep existing terms in effect, so the unions have fought any changes by putting up roadblocks instead of negotiating, Knell said.

“It has always been our intent to resolve these negotiations as quickly as possible, and in the best interests of taxpayers and state employees,” he said. “The only incentive to delay exists on the part of the unions, who want to continue operating under an agreement that requires state workers to make a forced payment even when they choose to not join a union. We continue to negotiate in good faith and are ready to move to the next step in the process, per state law, once the unions agree to move forward.”

The opposite view comes from Connie Derr, executive director AFSCME Council 18, the largest state employee union with about 8,000 members. She said Martinez’s negotiators never tried to reach settlements.

“In a nutshell, and I use the term deliberately, Management Associates has no connection to the work we do as state employees,” Derr said. “They don’t understand the work of public service; not the Department of Transportation, nor Corrections, nor Aging and Long-Term Services, nor Public Health — none of it.

READ the enitre articel HERE, at Santa Fe New Mexican

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