Assembly Passes Anti-Labor Ordinance
I should have known things would go awry when Dan Coffey held the door for me as I entered the Assembly Chambers. Tuesday night was the vote on Ordinance 37, which will gut the collective bargaining rights of municipal workers, and introduce “managed competition.”
There was a bunch of business before they got to the bill, but this was my favorite. Adam Trombley, the head of the Ethics and Elections Committee stated that the reason the committee had met only once since last year’s debacle of a Municipal election was that he “didn’t want to crowd the schedule at the Clerk’s office.”
Dick Traini hit the ground running. As soon as the ordinance was introduced, he made a motion to kill the vote. “The body cannot move,” he said. “Public testimony has not been satisfied.” Then he read the relevant section from the City Code.
“I rule that incorrect,” said Chairman Ernie Hall, who countered by saying that public testimony had been heard.
Traini appealed the ruling of the chair. Honeman seconded, but the vote went nowhere. Surprise.
Traini then stated that he wanted debate on the bill..
“I’d be interested in hearing from you,” said Traini to Hall. “There are 210 people who have not yet testified. And none of these were second bites at the apple.”
Honeman made a resolution to postpone the vote. That didn’t pass either. “My concern is with the litigation we will face, because we did not follow the charter… There is no fire, there is no emergency. We’re moving way too fast.”
Traini agreed. “I don’t want us to be sued because we didn’t listen. It’s not that many more people.”
Elvi Gray-Jackson spoke up and said she fully supporedt Traini’s position. “It saddens me to think if we don’t allow this, we will face serious lawsuits. I’m a taxpayer too and I don’t want to waste money on this.”
Traini’s motion failed 7-4 with the usual suspects voting the usual way. Traini, Honeman, Gray-Jackson and Flynn were the votes in support of the motion.
Next, Paul Honeman moved to postpone indefinitely. “I’m concerned. We’re going in the wrong direction. We have time. I am supportive of changes, but I know we can do this better.”
The motion failed 7-4.
And we were back to the ordinance itself.
Chris Birch piped up and said he wanted to be added as a co-sponsor to the S2 version of the bill which was introduced at the last minute.
Patrick Flynn was next, and said he’d gone through all four versions of the bill. “Several years ago, my friend and former colleague Dan Coffey, whom I saw skulking around earlier, suggested we stop public testimony.” He then went on to tell several stories of things he’d done in the past supporting the fact that he “stands on process.” “Sometimes we myopically focus on what’s in front of us, and when we do, we fail to grasp that we have a larger responsibility, not just to people we represent, but the integrity of this Assembly as an institution, and we have failed badly. The decision to close testimony prematurely has irrevocably harmed the public process.”
The crowd applauded.
“We couldn’t even get this thing introduced properly. I’m not perfect. In the past I may have tried to take a shortcut, but I’m proud to say I’ve learned from my mistakes.” Flynn went on to say he wasn’t expecting what he was saying to change things. “I know where the votes are, but I hope each of you thinks of this when you vote, because there will be a day when you reap what you have sown.”
Then, a string of amendments were proposed which would change the wording to state more clearly promises that were made by the Deputy Municipal Attorney during a Friday work session that staffing, scheduling, and overtime will still be negotiated, and current wages and benefits would not be cut.
The amendment failed 6-5 with Ossiander voting in the 5.
Another amendment was made to state clearly that the ordinance will not affect wages. Dennis Wheeler, Municipal Attorney said that the rate of overtime may change, in exchange for benefits or something else to be negotiated in the future.
Chris Birch said that inserting the language, “unreasonably complicates things.”
Honeman suggested changing the language to say that no one will suffer a loss of “base” pay.
Wheeler spoke again. “We’ll have a number of negotiations over the next 2 years. What will happen is there may be changes in benefits, base wages, overtime and other forms of compensation. This may happen to their benefit or loss. I want to make it clear, even if this amendment passes it’s no guarantee that the base pay and benefits and other compensation won’t be changed going forward.”
Elvi Gray-Jackson said what everyone was thinking. “So, what you’re saying is the fears people have of of losing pay are founded.”
Sullivan interjected that every new contract is a negotiation. “It may work to the employee’s benefit.” There was outright laughter on that one.
The amendment adding the words “base pay” passed 10-1 with only Bill Starr opposed.
Three more amendments from Elvi Gray-Jackson, and another from Paul Honeman were all shot down.
“We’re embarking on a major modification,” said Honeman. He said based on what he was hearing, the ordinance was designed as payback to more progressive members of the assembly for past actions. His biggest concern was that as an independent branch of municipal government, “sometimes we have to shove back and we haven’t done that… Will this be our legacy? With no real emergency. I don’t see the logic in it. We’ are the legislative body and we need to push back against this rushed crap.” He immediately apologized for his use of language, but it was obvious he was upset.
Traini added that all they’ve had is one draft after another with the latest version of the bill coming on 4:18 Friday afternoon. “We need 180 days or longer to figure out what we’re trying to solve here. We’re a bunch of lemmings going off a cliff. I don’t know who will be on this body to clean up the mess, but we’re creating a mess.”
Elvi Gray-Jackson admonished, “You did it in secrecy, without input, and for political reasons. The Mayor says it ‘simplifies and clarifies,’ but it demoralizes hard-working men and women who provide vital services to the city.”
She went on to quote Ernie Hall and Jennifer Johnston, both co-sponsors of the bill saying they felt city workers were fairly compensated. “So, why are we having this discussion?”
All told,1600 people testified on the ordinance with hundreds remaining in the queue. A total of three people testified in favor of it.
“I am so sorry this has happened to you,” Gray Jackson said to those assembled in the Assembly Chambers. And to her colleagues she added, “I’m asking you to put politics and promises you’ve made to one another in the trash. Please revisit this with input from everyone.”
Finally, the vote was taken. The ordinance passed 6-5.
Those voting in favor were: Hall, Frasca, Johnston, Starr, Birch, and Trombley.
Opposed were: Traini, Gray-Jackson, Honeman, Flynn and Ossiander.
One lone audience member was clapping for the vote. Those who pay attention to city politics will note without much surprise it was Fluoride Guy. Sitting next to him was the Waffle Lady from last summer’s Tea Party candidate forum. If looks could have killed, Fluoride Guy would have testified his last.
For now, Ordinance 37 is law.
Critical Assembly races will come to a vote on Tuesday, April 2. Ernie Hall (Yes on 37) faces a new write-in challenge from candidate Nick Moe. Cheryl Frasca (Yes on 37) will be challenged by Tim Steele. Dick Traini (No on 37) will be facing a challenge from Andy Clary. Jennifer Johnston (Yes on 37) will sadly be running unchallenged.
You know what to do.