Saturday, January 22, 2011
Gov. Martinez Unhappy With 11th-Hour Deal
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Former Gov. Bill Richardson signed a contract with a child care workers union on his last day in office that the new administration says could cost taxpayers a half-million dollars.
The contract covers an estimated 2,600 child care workers under contract with the state Children, Youth and Families Department to provide home care for the children of low-income parents. It sets up an arbitration and grievance process for child care providers who take state payments and establishes a system in which dues are deducted from paychecks and sent directly to their union.
The administration of Gov. Susana Martinez and union officials are at odds over the true cost of the deal to taxpayers.
Martinez's staff contends the contract will require CYFD to hire at least three new staff members and may require computer modifications that cost up to $500,000 to allow the union to collect dues from the independent child care workers.
A spokesman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees said Thursday the contract requires the union to pay any costs for computer system changes and rejected the idea that the state will need to hire additional personnel to perform work it already does, such as health and safety inspections.
The contract does not call for higher payments to child care workers, who are paid with federal funds under the Child Care Block Grant Act.
A Department of Finance and Administration report prepared at the request of the Martinez administration estimates the total impact of the agreement "is likely to be in the $545,000 to $760,000 range" with the biggest variable being the cost of the computer modifications.
"Obviously, this is something we don't feel should have been signed at the 11th hour" by Richardson, said Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Martinez.
AFSCME's request for direct payment of union dues before any computer modifications are made is subject to federal approval, both the contract and the DFA report state.
State officials say CYFD will likely need to add three full-time staff members to comply with a new grievance and arbitration process and other terms of the contract.
The contract outlines a grievance procedure that allows a child care provider, or a union representative, to submit a formal grievance against CYFD. The union can demand arbitration if the grievance is left unresolved by a three-step grievance process.
The DFA analysis, dated Jan. 4, found that at least one full-time management employee, at a cost of $80,000 a year, would be needed to focus on "labor issues that arise from this agreement." In addition, CYFD would likely need to hire an additional two employees, at a cost of $150,000 a year, to certify child care workers and provide health and safety inspections.
"Currently CYFD staff has a great deal of latitude when it comes to oversight activities," the DFA report states. The union contract sets down a formal process for inspections and investigations, some of which are likely to result in grievance and arbitration cases, DFA reported.
The two additional staffers would be needed to develop detailed "processes, procedures and forms used to evaluate providers, identify findings, develop corrective action plans, and impose sanctions," the report said.
The DFA estimates it would cost the state $300,000 to $500,000 in information technology costs to make the union dues payments.
CYFD spokeswoman Romaine Serna said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is most likely the agency that would need to approve direct payment of union dues. State officials are unaware of any decisions by federal officials on the issue.
Carter Bundy, legislative and political director for AFSCME, disputed the state's cost estimates.
Bundy points to wording in the contract that requires the union to pay for "any information technology integration requirements as a consequence of implementing a dues deduction system."
"That is a cost that will be borne by the union," Bundy said of the dues deduction system.
Bundy said the cost of the computer modifications remains undetermined, but the union remains committed to paying for the changes.
Bundy also rejected the idea that the contract will require CYFD to enlarge its staff. The contract only requires CYFD to follow laws that apply to all state contractors, he said.
Child care workers are considered "vendors" or contractors, not state employees.
"The state ought to be following the law," Bundy said. "We don't see how that's going to result in additional cost to the state if they simply follow the law."
Bundy also said the arbitration process spelled out in the contract has the potential to save the state money by keeping cases out of court.
"As a general rule, arbitration is far less expensive than lawsuits," he said.
The 2,600 child care workers voted in October 2009 to form Child Care Providers Together/New Mexico, an affiliate of AFSCME Council 18, according to AFSCME's website. The bargaining unit was authorized by legislation signed into law by Richardson in April 2009.
The child care workers are paid from $80 a month per child to $450 a month per child depending on a variety of factors, a union official said.