Friday, January 21, 2011

Prime example for banning 'me-too' clauses in union contracts

I've previously written about 'me-too' clauses in public sector union contracts - how they distort the give-and-take of a negotiation process and lead to increased costs for taxpayers.

Nearly all the government union contracts in Lucas County contain them, in effect guaranteeing that any benefit negotiated by one union will be shared by others - without the corresponding concession that resulted in the first union gaining the benefit.

Whether wages, pensions, educational reimbursement, or any other term that can be negotiated, it is likely that you will find such benefits are identical across the governmental jurisdiction because of this clause in the contracts.

My position when in office was that 'me-too' applied to concessions as well as benefits. I often told unions they could have the benefit if they were willing to give up whatever had been traded to get it, which effectively ended all such discussions on the matter. While I believe such clauses distort the negotiation process and are bad in a significant number of ways, today we have a prime example (an 'unintended consequence' effect) showing why they should be banned.

The Toledo Police Patrolman's Association (TPPA) has filed a grievance with the City of Toledo over the merger of the Toledo and Village of Ottawa Hills Fire Departments. You're probably wondering why in the world police would object to this merger. They're not objecting, they just want their 'me-too' clause enforced.

In 2009, Toledo City Council approved a contract extension for the TPPA and it included the following:

Other Bargaining Units The City will provide the TPPA with any greater economic benefits provided to the Toledo Firefighters and/or the Toledo Police Command Officers Association that they may receive either through settlement or impasse proceedings including fact finding and/or conciliation.

So the city - meaning council and the mayor - have previously agreed that any 'economic' benefit that the Firefighters or the Command Officers may negotiate, regardless of what they give up in order to get it, must be given to the members of the TPPA. These are the legally-binding terms the city must meet as they approved the contract and the language.

One of the things negotiated in the fire department merger was protection of seniority for the Ottawa Hills employees. When they become Toledo employees, they will earn wages and vacation time based upon their number of years with Ottawa Hills.

And that's a problem for the TPPA because they have members who previously worked in other jurisdictions who did NOT get similar credit when they became Toledo police officers. They are making the logical case that this is an economic benefit afforded to another union and they are, per their contract, guaranteed the same.

"The TPPA demands that each affected member be properly reimbursed for their back wages and annual vacation accrual. The TPPA further demands the affected members continue to receive the appropriate rate of pay and annual vacation accrual according to the steps they should have began with had they been properly credited with their prior service."

To make matters worse, I understand that TPPA, as well as the Toledo Police Command Officers (TPCOA), Firefighters Local 92 and the Battalion Chiefs union all told the city ahead of time that they would pursue such a grievance if the city went forward with their plan for granting seniority to the Ottawa Hills employees.

If the TPPA wins the grievance, it will cost the city millions to pay back wages and vacations for 200-300 police officers (estimated number affected) and the other related employees, since they were first hired into the city. It will also dramatically increase the 2011 budget and, accordingly, our projected deficit. Remember - last year they deferred overtime payments into 2011 to help 'balance' the 2010 budget and pay out the time at a higher rate of pay. Those payments will be even more if TPPA wins.

When they calculated how much the merger could cost us, did the city include the cost estimates of how much more it would be if they lost the grievances they were told would be filed? I certainly don't remember hearing about them.

Now, you could say (and I'm sure the city will argue) that a merger is a much different circumstance - and they should be correct. But this is a union contract and arbitrators and judges who decide such things are not bound by common sense - or even taxpayer interest. They are bound to examine the terms of the contract before them and TPPA can make a strong argument under their me-too clause.

But you just never know when it comes to deciding a grievance, which is why such terms should not be in contracts in the first place.

Unions should not expect to get something they didn't bargain for simply because someone else did. Unions should negotiate their own terms and be willing to abide by them. If they like the terms in another union's contract, they can seek to include them when their contracts expire.

But it is the elected officials who make the final decision and they should 'just say no' to any contract that includes such unfair terms - and they should be replaced if they don't have the will to do so.

In the meantime, Toledo administrators will spend time to fight the grievance and hope for a favorable outcome. Should they lose, they will be forced to either grant the seniority, vacation and back pay to hundreds of employees, or renege on the terms of the merger.

Either way, I believe the real losers are the Toledo taxpayers.


Mad Jack said...

Personally I'm sick and tired of our elected officials giving away the farm to a very small minority of the constituents. Maybe I'm just sick and tired of elected officials. Once the official gets into office there is no way to hold that official accountable to any promises made prior to taking office.

Meantime, we have such things as a 'me too' clause, which I was happily ignorant of prior to reading your blog. Thanks Maggie. You and 'me too' ruined my morning whiskey.

Who the hell would be dumb enough to allow a clause like that, anyway? Seriously. That kind of thing should be illegal, and fall under some sort of unconscionable profit law.

Maggie Thurber said...

sorry to ruin your morning whiskey....

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