Union Crossing Guards: Back to Work

It appears that a decision of the Department of Labor is reinstalling the crossing guards union in Cranston, and once again, we the citizens are the last to hear about it. And not only us, but the city council as well was reportedly unaware that this decision had been handed down, and that the clock was ticking for when it would be final. The full .pdf of the 23-page decision is here. I’ll cut to the chase:

ORDER
1) The Employer’s Motion to Amend its Answer to include an affirmative defense is hereby granted.
2) To the extent that the Employer still provides crossing guard services as a
service to its taxpayers, the Employer is hereby ordered to negotiate with the Union relative to the terms and conditions of employment for employees providing the bargaining unit work of Crossing Guard services for the upcoming school year.

This was decreed on 3/26/07, with 30 days in which parties could file a complaint. So that leaves 48 hours for the city to get that complaint in, and apparently the city council was just made aware of this last night. Hmmm. Do you think this issue could have been raised a little sooner? Don’t you think that after this was the headlining story of Steve Laffey’s claim to fame, that people would want to know that the crossing guards are back and we have to deal with the issue all over again?

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5 responses

  1. One would think that the union bosses would want to shout from the rooftops about this “win,” yet all we hear are crickets chirping.

    And surely the Napolitano administration would have told the City Council of the decision in order to garner support for an appeal, yet the Council allegedly first heard about it when Councilman Jeffrey Barone of Ward 6 brought it up.

    Was Mayor Napolitano just following orders and waiting for the appeal window to lapse so he could once again say “My hands are tied?”

    There is a dark cloud forming over Cranston, and it’s sitting right above City Hall.

    Taxpayers are advised to keep one hand on their wallet as this whole thing plays out.

  2. Now wait a minute Mark. You make about a half dozen allegations in such a short paragraph it is hard to know where to begin. But here is the most important point. The city had a contrat with these workers. It unilaterally ended it- in violation of the contract and the law. So good for the labor board for giving the order. Because as folks have said all along – this is going to cost Laffey and Craston a lot more to do it the wrong way then to negotiate a fair settlement from the beginning. Now, Cranston gets to eat another laffey mistake.

  3. I don’t know, Pat. I tend to agree with the three dissenting members of the Labor board on this one. Their statement is as follows:

    The majority takes the position that the City (employer) committed unfair labor practices by failing to meet and confer with the Union over the future status of the terms and conditions of employment regarding the City’s crossing guards, unilaterally repudiating the collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the union, and by assigning bargaining unit work outside the bargaining unit.

    We simply cannot grasp any theory under which a duty to bargain can be found where a charter provision or municipal ordinance gives the municipality the absolute right to restructure or eliminate municipal positions, even when the effects of restructuring necessarily impact what is routinely considered mandatory subjects of bargaining (wages, hours and working conditions).

    The Cranston City Charter, Section 3.16 – Powers Over Organization ofthe City Government, reads: “The Council shall have the power by ordinance not inconsistent with other provisions of this Charter to create, modify or abolish departments and non-departmental agencies in addition to those provided for in the Charter, and to create, modify or abolish departments, divisions, bureaus and other organizational units not established by this Charter.” Without repeating the history and judicial myriad of the crossing guards matter, Mayor Laffey took office in January 2003, in the heat of a municipal fiscal crisis, and engaged in extensive restructuring of many departments in an effort to rectify the City’s fmancial debacle.

    Municipal laws supersede contractual duties or obligations where the two are in conflict. On January 11,2005, Judge Procaccini issued a Decision and Order City of Cranston v. RI Laborers LIUNA, AFL-CIO (CA No. 04-2957) Superior Court 1-11-2005. He ruled that “in this Court’s view, the authority and the duty vested in the City Council and Mayor under the provisions of the Charter to make decisions regarding the City’s organizational units “cannot be relinquished…” With that conclusion, he ruled that Article 1 Section 4 of the amended collective bargaining agreement (Joint Exhibit 2) wherein the previous administration has agreed to not layoff or furlough any bargaining unit members and agreed to maintain not less than 39 crossing posts staffed by 39 bargaining unit employees was unenforceable and non-arbitrable. Judge Procaccini’s decision cites State of RI v. RI Alliance of Soc. Sec. Ees Local 580. SEIU 747 A.2d 465 (Rt 2000), where the Rhode Island Supreme court ruled that “if a statute contains or provides for a non-delegable and or no modifiable duties, rights, and or obligations, then neither contractual provisions nor purported past practices nor arbitration awards that would alter those mandates are enforceable.”

    While Judge Procaccini’s decision is currently on appeal and pending before the Rhode Island Supreme Court his decision remains law absent an order to the contrary (Rule 62, Superior Court Rules). Since the Court found that the “No Restructuring Clause” (Article I Section 4 of the amended agreement) was not legally enforceable, the issue of whether the No Restructuring Clause ended on June 30, 2005 or remained in effect until June 2006 because the city did not give proper notice is irrelevant.

    Moreover, even if the “No Restructuring Clause” (Article I Section 4 of the amended agreement)was legally enforceable, we still find no evidence that the City committed an unfair labor practice. The plan language ofthe Clause is patently clear and unambiguous: it was an express modification of the original contract, and its sunset provision provided that the agreement not to layoff or furlough clause expired on June 30, 2005. The City as noted above, did not layoff the crossing guards until July of 2005, and therefore, abided by the terms of the Clause.

    It is noteworthy that legislation (H 7602) was introduced this spring that would have added the following provision to Chapter 28-7 of the State Labor Relations Act: 28-7-49. Conflict between agreement and charter/ordinance -notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, in the event of any conflict between the terms of a collective bargaining agreement between a public sector employer and a public sector employee organization, and the terms of any charter or ordinance of any city or town, the conflict shall be resolved in favor of the collective bargaining agreement.” On April 5, 2006 the House Committee on Labor held the matter for further study. If this proposed legislation passes sometime in the future, it will materially change what is existing law. That this material change has been proposed reinforces our understanding that under current law, a valid City Charter that gives the administration the lawful ability to reorganize or abolish positions supersedes any other agreement. Therefore, there cannot be a duty to bargain over the reorganization or abolishment of departments or positions when there is a municipal law that trump’s contractual obligations when they are in direct conflict.

    For the reasons stated above, we dissent.

    I agree with you that the Laffey admin could have negotiated a contract — according to the union, they had already offered about 50% in concessions, which to me sounds like a good deal for the city, especially considering that we would have been able to keep the crossing guards that people know and feel confident in for the work they do. But that did not happen. And I believe the law as it is currently written upholds the ability of municipal charters to supersede union contract rules. The workers were not laid off — they worked until their contract expired. Then their contract was not renewed.

  4. Pat,

    The RI Supreme Court has ruled that a municipal charter has the force and effect of state law.

    The Cranston charter provides for the Mayor and Council to modify or abolish organizational units.

    Therefore, the “no layoff” clause of the contract was in direct conflict with the provisions of the charter. The RI Supreme Court has consistently held that contract provisions which conflict with state law cannot be enforced. It was this fact that allowed the City, in the midst of a financial crisis, to lay off the crossing guards and retain the same services from a security company at an annual savings of more than $500,000.

  5. Pat,
    You would think that the union would be embarassed by the contrast of what the City of Cranston got for less than half of the cost. The guards they have now are far more professional, more skilled, and work their shifts.

    It is a glaring example of what municipalities get with unionized workers – high cost, low service.

    The more this issue plays out in the press, the worse unions look. The union is fighting to have the taxpayers pay more for less – not what I’d call a winning issue for unions.

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