SANTA FE – The union representing most City of Santa Fe employees has filed a complaint against the city, alleging city officials committed unfair labor practices before deciding to furlough more than 1,000 employees.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 18 filed the complaint with the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board on April 23, nearly a week before the Santa Fe City Council narrowly approved furloughing 1,048 employees for either four or 16 hours.
The plan is part of the city’s attempt to address a sudden drop in funds caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, although many criticized the furlough plan for largely impacting low-wage workers.
City officials first notified the union April 15 that furloughs were being considered, at which point negotiations were set to begin.
“Turns out, they didn’t seem to have much interest in bargaining,” said Stephen Curtice, an attorney representing the union.
The complaint states city officials first proposed 40-hour furloughs for employees working in shuttered departments, such as libraries and parking. The city then verbally proposed 8-hour furloughs, which the union did not accept because not enough details were provided.
City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill then issued a notice of furloughs to the union April 19, which included the 4- and 16-hour furloughs.
Curtice said the figures were never formally proposed by either side before Hill issued the notice and that they never received specific information about which employees would be furloughed or the economic status of the city’s funds, both of which they previously requested.
He said the city’s failure to provide relevant information during the bargaining process constitutes a violation.
“They weren’t giving us the information we needed to evaluate their proposal,” he said. “We can’t bargain effectively unless they tell us that stuff.”
The next morning, the union met with city officials to discuss the proposal and provided a counter offer later that afternoon. However, hours earlier, Mayor Alan Webber called a news reporter to disclose details of the plan, the complaint states.
At that point negotiations broke down. Curtice said Webber was giving more information to the press than to the union.
“The whole purpose was to keep us in line so he could control the message,” said Chris Armijo, council representative organizer for AFSCME.
Webber told the City Council Wednesday that the furlough plan followed both the law and established labor agreements.
At that same meeting, City Attorney Erin McSherry said certain aspects of the agreement could not be met during negotiations, such as notifying employees of furloughs 28 days in advance.
If the Labor Relations Board rules in the union’s favor, the city could be on the hook for all back pay lost during the furloughs, Curtice said.
City Spokesperson Lilia Chacon said Friday that “the city sees no benefit in commenting on pending litigation.”
AFSCME Council 18 says city failed to provide information during bargaining