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Latest News - August 2012

August 5, 2012
Union Time on the Taxpayers' Dime
Source: New Mexico
By: Jim Scarantino

Many of New Mexico’s cities and counties give union officers paid leave to do union work. In Albuquerque, a union president’s entire salary is picked up by taxpayers when he reports to the union office each day instead of the Solid Waste Department where his job is supposed to be driving a garbage truck. Santa Fe permits the officers of its firefighters union to participate in political activities while on the city’s clock. Across the state taxpayers pick up the bill for union activities regardless of whether they are in the public’s interest.

The City of Albuquerque is alone among New Mexico local governments trying to shake off a practice where unions’ overhead costs are subsidized by taxpayers. Albuquerque so far is having a difficult time with New Mexico judges who have relied on unproved presumptions to uphold the subsidies. Across the border in Arizona, a free-market think tank has been having better success in removing union bosses from the taxpayers’ dime.

This is the first in a series examining how New Mexico taxpayers have been propping up public sector unions through the practice of “union administrative leave.”

Casey Padilla is a driver in Albuquerque’s Solid Waste Department. But he does not report to work at any Solid Waste office, depot or facility. We could not locate him through repeated calls to the Solid Waste Department. Instead of operating a garbage truck, he drives a desk at the offices of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in northeast Albuquerque.

Padilla holds the job title of “residential collections driver,” according to information provided by the city’s website. He earns $17.29 per hour. For 2012, through the end of July he had been paid $25,090,93, not including benefits such as health insurance. All of his time has been spent working not for the city that cuts his paycheck, but for the unions he serves as president.

Padilla is the President of AFSCME Local 624. This is considered AFSCME’s “blue collar” bargaining unit. Under the collective bargaining agreement with that union, the city pays 20 hours of the union president’s time each week “to assist with the resolution of labor/management issues.”

Padilla is also the President of AFSCME Local 624 Transit. That bargaining unit represents transit workers. The city’s collective bargaining agreement requires payment for 20 hours weekly of that unit’s president’s time to “assist” with labor/management relations.

Because Padilla represents both unions, his full 40-hour work week is paid by the city. But he is not assisting the city; he is working for the unions in a sometimes adversarial relationship. Though he is on its payroll, the city has no say in how he performs his job.

According to Padilla, he fills out “logs” that show the meetings he attends. “They city can check and see if I was there,” he says. But when asked if anyone from the city checks to see if he is in the AFSCME office instead of goofing off or attending to personal business on the city’s time, he acknowledged that he is unaccountable. He says he does not participate in any political activity during his city-paid work week. But there is no way of knowing for sure what he does with the forty hours of his time taxpayers are buying.

In addition to picking up the cost of Padilla serving as the unions’ president, the city also pays union stewards to attend pre-determination and grievance hearings and arbitrations. The cost to the city of that form of union administrative leave is not a set figure, and can rise without upward limit.
We have submitted a public records request to the City of Albuquerque for Padilla’s logs and times sheets recording how he has used his union administrative leave. We will address those records in a future report.

The City of Santa Fe pays the officers of its firefighters association to engage in politics. Santa Fe’s agreement with the Santa Fe Firefighters Association, International Association of Firefighters Local 2059, requires the city to give the union’s president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer 624 hours a year of paid leave to engage in political activity, as well as “business regarding the administration of” the collective bargaining agreement. The officers may also use paid leave to attend the union’s general meetings and executive board meetings.

Carl Schmitt is president of the Santa Fe Firefights. He earns $19.837 per hour as a Fire Captain. His vice-president, Eric Gonzales, is also a Fire Captain at the same rate of pay. Carlos Nava, a Fire Captain and the union’s treasurer, earns $19.265 per hour. The union’s secretary, firefighter James Greenwood, is paid $13.753 per hour.

The minimum cost to Santa Fe taxpayers of union administrative leave for the firefighters, 624 hours of each of the officers’ time, comes to $45,360, not including benefits.

But the cost can go higher. The collective bargaining agreement contains a provision that allows the Fire Chief to grant additional paid union administrative leave at the request of the union president.
In a telephone interview, union president Schmitt said that the firefighter union officers do not always use all the allotted union administrative leave. He says he only uses paid leave for tasks he cannot perform without taking time off from work. Unlike AFSCME’s Padilla, Schmitt reports to work everyday and handles union affairs while on the job as much as he can, he says.

He says he files logs with the city on how he uses his union administrative leave time. He acknowledges that the union’s officers have used administrative leave for political activities. But he insists the political activities for which paid leave is used are only political activities within the union, such as running for re-election. He did not answer our question whether he reported his political activities conducted on paid leave to the city. He then said he did not want his name used in this story. When we explained he is publicly identified as the president of the firefighters union and we felt we had to use his name, he terminated the interview.

We have submitted a public records request to the City of Santa Fe to inspect the logs and time sheets for union administrative leave taken by officers of the firefighters’ union, and will address those records in a future report.

Every one of the collective bargaining agreements to which the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe are a party contains some provision for taxpayers covering some part of the union’s costs. Santa Fe pays 520 hours annually of the time of the president of its police officer’s union, and lesser amounts for each of the union officers. Even board members get 104 hours of city pay to conduct union business. The board members of Santa Fe’s AFSCME unit get up to 240 hours per year of paid union leave; the president gets 20 hours a week “to conduct any activities he/she believes are in the best interest of administering” the union’s contract.

Albuquerque pays the full salary of the firefighters union president and one other employee to work on union business. The officers of AFSCME’s clerical unit may get unlimited paid leave to handle grievances, resolve conflicts, “facilitate application” of the collective bargaining agreement “or assist with employee/management matters.”

The president of Albuquerque Officers Association Local 1888 gets one day a week paid leave to conduct union business. The president and vice-president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association get up to 20 hours per week paid leave to represent the union.

The president of AFSCME Local 3022 gets 16 hours a week paid leave. One union member can get paid leave, with benefits, for a full year to work for the union.

As future installments in this series will show, the practice of providing paid leave for union officers to conduct union business has been written into the collective bargaining agreements for many other local governments around New Mexico.

Since the election of Richard J. Berry as mayor, the city of Albuquerque has been trying to shake off the unions’ claims to paid leave for their officers to conduct union business.

Berry’s administration inherited those contracts from the administration of Marty Chavez. The Berry administration refused to continue this practice after its contracts with AFSCME expired. But a district court judge has ordered the city to continue paying union administrative leave during the period the contracts are being renegotiated. The court ruled that state law requires the extension of the terms of the expired contracts in the interim; the city argues that its home rule status exempts it from this provision of state law. The city has appealed that issue to the New Mexico Court of Appeals in the case of AFSCME, et al. v. City of Albuqeurque. The briefing has been completed and oral requested. The case may be heard this autumn.

Albuquerque is also challenging the payment of salaries to conduct union business as a violation of the anti-donation clause of the New Mexico state constitution, Art. IX, Sec. 14, which states in relevant part:

Neither the state, nor any county, school district or municipality, excepts as otherwise provided, shall directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association, or public or private corporation….

The city argues it cannot be ordered to do something which is illegal, and payment of salaries for people conducting union business is illegal under the anti-donation clause.

The union argues that union administrative leave is “official” public business. Citing a decision by the State Labor Board concerning the use of state vehicles by union officials on union business, AFSCME maintains that “The payment of time for union business is not a donation–it satisfies a legitimate purpose of resolving labor-management issues.”

Union bosses on the public dime can and do work to strengthen their union’s position against the city. They take the side of their members against city management. In Santa Fe, as discussed above, they even engage in politics on the taxpayers’ dime.

They work without supervision when conducting union business. The city does not know what they are doing and does not direct them how to do their job. They are held to no standards of performance. If they fail to foster harmonious labor relations and fail to head off disputes–indeed, even if they provoke more contentious labor-management relations–they are not judged to have failed to meet any outcomes set by the city that pays them. They are largely unaccountable to the taxpayers’ paying their salary.

Though Albuquerque is so far alone among local governments in tackling union administrative leave, a similar battle has been playing out in Arizona. There, lawyers for the Goldwater Institute, a free market oriented think tank, won a preliminary injunction against Phoenix’s practice of paying union officials to conduct union business. Under Arizona’s equivalent of the anti-donation clause, the Arizona court has ruled such arrangements to be illegal. The legal battle over union administrative leave in our neighboring state may show the path to eliminating the practice here in New Mexico, and will be the subject of the next installment in this series.



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