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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wallingford - Unions protest vacation-day edict

As published in the Record Journal on Saturday February 23, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Two unions have filed grievances protesting the mayor’s decision requiring town employees to use a vacation day to cover time not worked when Town Hall was closed earlier this month due to the blizzard.

Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said Friday that United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-14, representing municipal managers, and United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-16, representing the Water Department employees, had filed a grievance protesting Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s Feb. 14 memo.

Sullivan also said he expects Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers, to file a grievance soon. Earlier this week, the union’s president, Chuck Ballard, said one would be filed by week’s end.

“I’m hopeful we find some resolution,” Sullivan said.

Because multiple unions are filing grievances, Sullivan said the first two steps of the resolution process will be skipped. Normally, an aggrieved employee first brings his or her complaint to a direct supervisor. If the supervisor cannot resolve the issue, it’s brought to the department head. If the complaint is still unresolved, Sullivan holds an informal hearing.

In this case, though, the process will skip directly to the informal hearing with Sullivan because it’s not a single employee bringing forward a complaint.

Separate hearings will be held within “the next two weeks,” Sullivan said, calling the meetings “a fair process.”

Sullivan said that Dickinson is unlikely to be involved in the hearings. Also, no matter what the decision, no disciplinary action will be taken.

“This is just an administrative matter,” Sullivan said.

If the issue can’t be resolved through Sullivan, there is the possibility it will go to arbitration through either the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration or the American Arbitration Association. That is a last resort, though.

“Very few grievances actually go all the way,” Sullivan said.

Shelby Jackson, president of the managers union, was out of the office and unavailable for comment on Friday. Joseph Mrozowski, president of the water workers union, referred comment to Wayne Gilbert, regional director of the United Public Service Employees Union, but Gilbert was out of his office on Friday.

Ballard was also unavailable for comment, but made his position clear in a letter to the editor published in the Record-Journal Friday.

After referring to Dickinson’s memo, Ballard wrote: “However, the binding agreement states that the town is not allowed to close town government offices and demand vacation time to be used. Furthermore, town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees— so why is this situation any different?”

Ballard goes on to say that, with multiple grievances filed,work hours will be wasted and the expense to the town will grow.

“The end result is a huge bill for taxpayers,” he said.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, agreed with Dickinson’s stance, stating, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to pay people arbitrarily.”

While the cost of arbitration and time put into finding a resolution are “always a concern,” Fishbein said, he thinks it’s inappropriate for the unions to use them as leverage. He called the blizzard “a once-in-a lifetime storm,” and doesn’t think this issue will come up again anytime soon.

Town Councilor John Letourneau, a Republican, said he disagreed with Dickinson, and that the issue could “cost the town thousands in litigation.”

“Is it worth it at the end of the day for a philosophical stance?” LeTourneau said. “That’s where I differ from the mayor.”