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Santa Fe’s employee furloughs broke labor law

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The city of Santa Fe committed prohibited labor practices when furloughing hundreds of employees due to COVID-19, an arbitrator with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board ruled Friday.

However, both sides were claiming victory afterward.

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em042920j/a/Santa Fe City workers protest outside Santa Fe City Hall Wednesday April 29, 2020. The group of around 40 vehicles and dozens of people were protesting the city’s plan to furlough workers as a result of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3999, which represents a slight majority of city workers, filed the complaint days after the City Council voted in April to furlough hundreds of employees as a cost-saving measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint centered around city officials allegedly not bargaining in good faith when discussing furloughs, failing to provide adequate notice to employees and not giving union officials relevant information about the furloughs.

Thomas Griego, the hearing officer for the case, wrote in his ruling that the city committed an unfair labor practice by not providing information about the furlough when AFSCME officials requested them.

“An emergency such as that faced by the city of Santa Fe… does not excuse an obligation to bargain in good faith,” Griego wrote.

Griego also ruled the city had the right to implement furloughs. And while the city did not give employees the required 28-day notice of the furloughs, he wrote that it was allowable given the circumstances brought on by COVID-19.

The city will still be required to post a notice for 60 days that states it violated the Public Employees Bargaining Act, but will not have to pay any lost wages or fines to employees.

Yet, city spokesperson Kristine Mihelcic wrote in a statement that Griego’s ruling had vindicated the city’s decision to furlough workers.

“The city of Santa Fe considers this to be an overall confirmation of its decisions and actions regarding the furloughs,” Mihelcic wrote.

However, Griego noted in his ruling that the city did not put to bed questions about bargaining in good faith, because it never gave union officials relevant documentation, which AFSCME officials argue proves the city acted improperly.

“I thought it was very clear that we were in the right and they were definitely in the wrong,” AFSCME Vice President Gil Martinez said.

Martinez said he was disappointed no money was awarded, since many employees had significant portions of their pay cut.

Many criticized the furloughs for having a larger impact on lower-wage workers, some of whom had their pay reduced by 40%. The most recent round of furloughs ended earlier this month.

AFSCME staff representative Chris Armijo said the union is considering filing an appeal to force the city to pay lost wages.

“That’s something we have to discuss,” he said. “Obviously, we’re hurt about the monetary award or lack thereof.”


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