AFSCME Council 18

Duck, Duck, Goose: Berry Administration Continues to Reward the Elite and Punish the Workers

AFSCME Local 1888 Exec Board, Walt Small

As the media directs public attention to the high profile battles at city hall, the real struggles of Albuquerque’s working men and women continue to be ignored. The majority of City workers have not seen a raise in over four years and it is possible that newly budgeted raises will fail to make it to their paychecks.

While news coverage heralds another year of raises for City employees, the untold story is that the Berry Administration could, once again, block raises for a majority of workers unless the union caves in and agrees to wholesale destruction of workplace rights.  

The mayor has proposed a 1% increase in wages, and city council recently approved a 3% increase across the board. 
AFSCME staff representative and lead negotiator for ABQ city unions, Rocky Gutierrez says, “The way we see it, it threatens to be more of the same. They [Berry Administration] will aim to lock raises up in negotiations unless we give up the farm.” 

The administration hasn’t stopped there. Even though Albuquerque’s budget picture has improved since the onset of the recession, the administration continues to turn the screw by imposing unnecessary and vindictive furlough days on lower paid city workers. 

At the height of the economic crisis, city unions agreed to taking two unpaid furlough days and do their part to help improve the city budget. Later, as labor sat down to negotiate new contracts, Berry capitalized on the crisis to push take backs at the bargaining table. 

Seeing how Berry’s proposals would result in wholesale outsourcing of good public jobs and obliterate city workers’ rights and on-the-job safety, the contracts went to impasse. Instead of allowing an arbitrator to resolve the impasse, the administration has allowed things to bump along without resolution.  

Mayor Berry has not imposed his version of the union contract and to date, key terms and conditions of employment continue unharmed. That doesn’t mean they aren’t testing the waters and striking out where they can. 

Even though the furlough days were intended as a one year event to help shore up Albuquerque's budget, the Berry administration has taken the impasse as an opportunity to impose the furloughs year after year even as the budget picture improves.

The administration demands that city employees take unecessary furlough days. AFSCME has responded by filing prohibited practice complaints, three of them. 

“Our position is that we opened the contract to negotiate that section of the contract, legally, that put a freeze on those furloughs.” said AFSCME Council 18 Exec VP and Local 624 President Casey Padilla.  

City leaders have demanded that Local 1888 City Security Officers take two furlough days by June 13. Besides calling out the city’s petty retaliation against unions by making the move, Officers are questioning the wisdom of the timing.

The furloughs are coming just as school gets out and Albuquerque’s youth hit the town for summer fun. “The demand to take furloughs is illegal, short sighted, and hurts families. It will definitely and puts citizens in harm’s way,” said AFSCME Local 1888 Executive Board member Walt Small.

City security officers are warning that their response times will suffer. In the larger picture, AFSCME officials suspect that the move is part of Berry’s larger agenda, to diminish morale and strain public services. “Once that happens, the public outcry gives Berry an opening to bring on more private contract security,” said Gutierrez. 

Already, the ranks of ABQ City Security have been bolstered by private contract security who lack the same training and accountability as sworn public officers.

AFSCME plans to realign the three previous prohibited practice complaints seeking to rescind the current furlough order and pay security officers back for lost wages from previous furlough days. Albuquerque’s labor board has failed to take up the complaints for nearly two years. Leaders anticipate the case could end up in court.

Recent statements by a New Mexico judge in another AFSCME case lead us to believe that the courts could provide remedy when Albuquerque’s Labor Board fails to act in a timely manner.

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