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City, unions break five-year stalemate

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Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Richard Berry and unions that represent one-third of City Hall’s workforce are close to breaking a five-year stalemate in contract negotiations.

Albuquerque union leaders said Monday that their membership overwhelmingly has ratified contracts that would provide a 2.86 percent raise. The tentative agreements, however, still require City Council approval, they said.


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The city had been offering 3 percent raises, but the deal had to include abolishing taxpayer-funded union time, a practice in which union leaders draw their regular city pay even if they dedicate some or all of their work day to handling union business, rather than their regular city jobs.

In the end, the unions said they agreed to set aside 0.14 percent of the raise to pay for union time. That means union presidents and stewards would have a pool of about $130,000 in paid time to tap into when they need to leave their jobs during the day to attend hearings or handle similar labor work, the unions said.

“This is a tremendous relief,” said Deb Rainaldi, a 911 operator and president of the clerical union. “The employees’ morale changed overnight.”

All three union groups are affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. Altogether, they cover about 1,900 blue collar, transit, clerical and security employees.

Rob Perry, Albuquerque’s chief administrative officer, said union leaders and city officials met recently for four full days, sometimes deep into the evening, as part of mediation ordered by state District Judge Alan Malott. The two sides worked in mediation with retired federal Magistrate Judge Alan Torgerson.

“We had positive and productive discussions,” Perry said, “and we’re heading into the final stages with a hopeful direction that we will be able to resolve our disagreements and reach a contract.”

The progress comes after years of acrimony. Berry – who took office in late 2009, Albuquerque’s first Republican mayor in 20 years – took aim at “union time” early in his tenure.

Union contracts negotiated before his administration allowed the presidents of some unions to draw regular city salaries while dedicating all of their workday, week after week, to union business.


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Berry said taxpayers shouldn’t pay for union work.

There were other disputes, as well, but the city administration eventually reached a compromise with many city unions, allowing them to continue “union time,” but only if it was covered by donated leave from fellow employees.

Three AFSCME unions held out.

Eventually, the Berry administration imposed a contract on the unions, and the unions filed suit in state District Court. That resulted in the court-ordered mediation.

Casey Padilla, president of the union that includes blue collar workers, said he hopes the tentative agreement is a sign of “a good working relationship” to come. Years of unsuccessful negotiations weren’t good for anyone, he said.

“We’re hopeful this is the beginning, that we can actually move forward,” said Padilla, a driver for the city’s Department of Solid Waste Management. “We want to continue to provide good services for the people of Albuquerque.”

The contracts, if they get final approval, will be in place for 18 months, the unions said.

Rocky Gutierrez, AFSCME’s negotiator, said the unions made some concessions, including changes to disciplinary procedures.

But “we believe we came out with a good agreement,” he said.