Wednesday, July 13, 2016

MoCo employees, labor officials denounce County Council's Koch Brothers-inspired bill

Montgomery County public employees and their union leaders packed the County Council hearing room last night, to testify against an anti-labor bill that finds some on the Council in an unholy alliance with the far-right Koch Brothers. The bill, introduced by Council President Nancy Floreen, would gut collective bargaining rights of County employees, and replace neutral arbitrators who have expertise in labor negotiations with retired judges.

Many expressed shock that a bill with language inspired by the Koch Brothers' American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would even be entertained by the County Council. The move by the Council has gotten the attention of labor officials at the highest level in the country; Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice-President of the national AFL-CIO, testified in person. He carried with him a letter from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Gebre said it was unusual for Trumka to weigh in on a local issue like this, but that the Council's bill is "so egregious," the statement was necessary.

"I shouldn't be here tonight," Gebre said. "There is no need for me to be at the Montgomery County Council" to oppose anti-labor legislation, he said. A Silver Spring resident himself, Gebre noted that even the title of Floreen's bill is worded like ALEC's model Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act. The text of the bill itself is a "cut-and-paste" job from the Koch Brothers organization, he said.

"The entire labor movement is keeping an eye on what you are doing," Gebre warned. "It breaks my heart that this Council is entertaining this."

Such a high-level emissary having to chide the Council was almost overshadowed by typical antics from Councilmember George Leventhal. At the hearing's outset, Leventhal requested the floor before anyone could testify. Knowing the auditorium and television audience was at its peak, Leventhal proceeded to hijack the hearing, to unleash an attack on public employee unions for a recent robocall. His monologue, read off of a prepared script, went on for nearly ten minutes.

When Gino Renne, President of the main County employee union UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, was called up to testify later, he asked if he could have additional time to rebut Leventhal's attack. Floreen denied the request, saying Renne could use his allotted three minutes however he wished, but could not have a separate rebuttal. "So he can make gratuitous statement with no response?" Renne asked.

Renne made a point that was heard not only from many speakers, but from those in the crowd, as well - that most County employees are also taxpaying residents. "70% of our membership resides in Montgomery County," Renne said. "Let's stop demonizing them for not doing their fair share."

County resident Richard Kirschner, a longtime labor law practitioner, charged the bill was "extracted from ALEC," and would be "Draconian in its consequences." The idea of conducting collective bargaining in public, one aim of the bill, is "absolutely, completely absurd," Kirschner said. He said Floreen had failed to provide "a single piece of empirical evidence" to justify her bill.

Judges, Kirschner added, do not have the expertise in labor agreements that the current neutral arbitrators possess. To some judges with no labor background, he said, "factory is a compound word, preceded by 'Cheesecake,'" which drew laughter from the crowd. Justin Vest of Progressive Maryland said having retired judges rather than neutral arbitrators would "call that neutrality into question."

Jeffrey Buddle, President of the Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association IAFF Local 1664, said the bill would do "meaningful harm to County employees," and that "all of the trump cards would be dealt to the County" in future bargaining. IAFF 1664 has only arbitrated twice, Michael Rund of the Professional Firefighters of Maryland pointed out. In his experience, none of the jurisdictions he has participated in negotiations in has the three-person arbitration panel proposed under this bill. And taxpayers would now have to pay for three people to do the job currently performed by one, he said.

Two firefighters provided emotional testimony against the bill. Brock Cline, currently working out of Station 26 on Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda, mentioned his two small children were in the audience. Cline said he and his wife "work alternating shifts to take care of them." He said they live in a modest house, and he drives a model year 2000 car. "It is all we can do to keep living in Montgomery County," Cline said. The crowd rose to give Cline a standing ovation.

Robert Ford, a career firefighter since 1992, said that given the dangerous work firefighters do and the impacts on their health, he is very concerned that the bill would " and safety negotiations."

William Mitchell, speaking on behalf of MCGEO, disputed the frequent criticism that County employees are receiving pay packages that are overly generous. He said that County Ride On bus drivers will actually earn $200,000 less than their Metrobus counterparts over their careers, even though they drive the same roads. Also challenging the assertion that County employees are living large was Darrell Carrington, representing
ASCME Council 67. Most expenditures by public employees are for food and medicine, Carrington said, "not even thinking about vacations or fancy things like that."

A 30-year County employee, Dianne Betsy, has worked in the Department of Libraries since 1990. She called the Council bill "a slap in the face to all County employees." Noting that many County workers had to give up pay increases they were entitled to in FY-2017, she said "the Council decided we didn't deserve the raise. Rather than reward our hard work and loyalty, we are again being attacked" by the Council.

Her colleague Patricia Buck took time off from her library job to testify, and said it was the first time she had ever spoken before the Council on a matter. Referring to terms used in the County code regarding labor relations, Buck suggested the bill "does not feel at all 'harmonious' or 'cooperative.'"

"I don't think Ms. Floreen understands the process of collective bargaining," County employee Leon Walters said. He asked why the Council would be "helping the likes of [Wisconsin Governor] Scott Walker, rather than helping our County employees."

Al Vincent, Jr., representing UFCW Region 2, called the bill a "horrible attack on the rights of UFCW workers." He ripped the Council for allying with the Koch Brothers and their ALEC organization. "Will you follow, and ride on the backs of ALEC?" Vincent asked them.

The fact that the Council has to defend its adoption of ALEC model legislation "is in itself damning," said Stuart Applebaum, representing both the UFCW and the Democratic National Committee. "We can't understand why our elected leaders would associate with ALEC and their ideas," said Carlos Jimenez of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.

Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Canales confessed he was in disbelief that the Council would consider the bill. "I'm puzzled and amazed," he said. "We're in Montgomery County - this is Montgomery County," he repeated incredulously.

"I'm surprised that this legislation is in Montgomery County," said an equally perplexed Mark Federici, President of UFCW Local 400. "This legislation is unjust, and is beneath the citizens of Montgomery County and this County Council." For the all-Democratic Council to walk away from that party's core value of supporting labor, Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals President James Koutsos said, they are demonstrating "a desire to distance yourselves from the very people who have supported you."

Kevin Heenan, an employee with the County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the Council's actions are "not necessarily shady, but must be seen as suspect." He encouraged people to consider the term limits question that's likely to be on the ballot this November. Jimenez also predicted political storm clouds on the horizon for the Council, arguing there is no room for a councilmember who would support ALEC.

A former five-term VP with MCGEO (and a founding member), resident Larry Dickter said that "hateful us vs. them" rhetoric "may be worthy of the Trumps of the world, but should be beneath" the Council. Personalizing the debate, Dickter asked councilmembers who support the bill to "find the unarmed security officer who came here tonight to protect, and God forbid, even take a bullet for you...And tell him you need to cripple his union to keep him from getting ahead."

It seems unlikely that this bill will find the support to pass, but it is another clear indicator of the rise of a new kind of Wall Street Democrat both locally and nationally. First Councilmember Hans Riemer got elected with financial backing from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and Danaher Corporation, two pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China (among many other Wall Street firms and lobbyists who filled the Riemer campaign fund).

Now several councilmembers, incredibly, are teaming up with the Koch Brothers on this initiative. The bill and discussion last night from the dais also reminds one that Floreen and Leventhal are currrently jockeying for the endorsement of the anti-labor Washington Post editorial board, in the 2018 County Executive race.


Anonymous said...

You don't seem to be getting to the heart of it. County employees have benefits better than most private sector employees in the area, in terms of health care and retirement plans. This is a result of the broken union negotiation process.

How about comparing their benefits to those of private sector employees in Montgomery County? It's sweet when those union employees complain about not getting a raise -- guess what it's been like in the private sector!

Also, there were people from the audience who testified in favor of the bill -- you didn't mention them.

Anonymous said...

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service"

"It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management."

"The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations,"

"The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters."


Robert Dyer said...

4:36: Part of the problem is that more and more of the private sector employees don't have unions anymore, pensions have been eliminated, etc. Also, the Council doesn't need this bill to control pay or benefits. Those amounts are determined during the existing collective bargaining process, and are then approved by the County Council. If they feel something was excessive, why didn't they decline to approve it, rather than partner with the Koch Brothers on an ALEC bill like this?

Anonymous said...

"partner with the Koch Brothers on an ALEC bill like this"

Ask him for actual proof of this claim, Dyer will just shout louder.

Robert Dyer said...

5:47: Look at the language and name of the bill, and then review the Koch Brothers' ALEC model legislation it was based on.

Anonymous said...

Let's see that "ALEC model legislation", Dyer.


Anonymous said...

I understand why public employee unions want to preserve the status quo – they have been have their way with “experienced negotiators” for decades. Until recently few have paid attention to the carnage that lavish municipal employee pensions have brought to local governments. Now as we see cites (Detroit, Stockton, Chicago etc.) crumble under the burden of employee pension obligations, it is clear that our leaders must be more responsible in negotiations with public employees. Montgomery County will soon be paying more to retired teachers than to active teachers (if they aren’t doing so already).

It was not the Koch Brothers who said: “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

It was George Meany -- the former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O . Until the 1960’s unions admitted that collective bargaining had no place in government. Once given the chance, however, it was in the interest of the union members to cut deals – even when (as we now) those deals undermined cities and public school systems. Can’t blame the unions for wanting to keep the gravy train rolling, but it’s time for our leaders to stop the insanity.

Anonymous said...

Lol @4:36AM "what it's been like in the private sector" ... sorry buddy but if you're not getting a raise now you're never getting one

Anonymous said...

"The bill...would require public disclosure of each party’s initial bargaining position on all provisions and that any evidentiary hearings before an arbitration panel be open to the public.

"It would also replace the single arbitrator when the two sides are at an impasse with a three-person panel that would have to consider the county’s financial ability to pay for labor agreements."

What is so unreasonable about this proposal?

Robert Dyer said...

9:12: Those are only some of the provisions. Several of the speakers I quoted were effective in explaining why the two you mentioned are bad ideas. Also, the bill would allow retired judges to replace the current neutral arbitrator, which inherently would politicize the arbitration process. It could also further reduce the ability to bargain on anything not explicitly mentioned in the bill, just as effects bargaining was taken away from police officers.

I'm sure the Koch Brothers find it reasonable, since they essentially wrote the bill.

Anonymous said...

"the bill would allow retired judges to replace the current neutral arbitrator, which inherently would politicize the arbitration process."

Because someone who has been a judge for several decades can't be trusted to impartial or objective on any issue. Right, Dyer?

Anonymous said...

"Several of the speakers I quoted were effective in explaining why the two you mentioned are bad ideas"

No, they didn't, or at least not as you actually quoted them in your article. They just spoke in the same glittering generalities that you did.

Anonymous said...

@11:41AM. The ABA has guidelines regarding former judges being arbitrators.
So, in answer, no, just because someone has been a judge for several decades does not indicate or guarantee they can or will be an effective arbitrator.
An example:

Anonymous said...

@ 3:10 PM - As I read it, that article is saying that you need to judge each candidate's individual qualifications. Which is exactly as it should be.

Anonymous said...

"the anti-labor Washington Post editorial board"

Says Robert Dyer the Republican.

Robert Dyer said...

11:41: Who appoints judges to the bench?

Robert Dyer said...

11:44: Here we go with the Alinsky tactics again.

Robert Dyer said...

6:14: The Seventh State said I was running to the left of the County Council, so your ham fisted arguments aren't very effective in this case. Not every Republican is anti-labor, which is something both you and Jeb Bush are frustrated about at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Dyer @ 7:09 PM - Who appoints the arbitrators?

Dyer @ 7:11 PM - When did Gwen Breck become your new hero? None of the quotes in your article cited specific text in the bill.

Dyer @ 7:14 PM - So what exactly is your reason for being a Republican, other than not having to face a competitive primary in Montgomery County?

Anonymous said...

“It is important to point out that MCGEO never testified about staffing in school health or child welfare services while we were considering the FY17 budget,” Leventhal said. “To issue a robocall attacking President Floreen for failing to address a problem that MCGEO did not bring to our attention while we considered the budget and to make this call several weeks after we passed the budget, seems less than constructive. And to mount a personal attack on council President Floreen, when the council added funds above the county executive’s request for child welfare services, reveals that the intent of these calls is not in fact to address budget shortfalls, but instead to intimidate the council president and other council members.”

Robert Dyer said...

9:05: Thanks for stopping by, Councilmember Leventhal.

Robert Dyer said...

7:37: Uh, maybe because I've been a Republican all my life, decades before I even knew that incompetent leadership in my County would require me to run for office?

Anonymous said...

Your reason for being a Republican is "because you've been a Republican all your life"? Sounds like you didn't give that very careful thought.

Also, you did not answer the question about who appoints the current arbitrators.


Robert Dyer said...

6:29: If you don't know the answer to that question, why would you even be criticizing my article?

Anonymous said...

The County currently appoints the arbitrator. So how will the method proposed in the bill make the arbitrator "more beholden" to the County?

Anonymous said...

The core value of conservativism is that you do not make change unless change is needed. Then, you make an appropriate change. Those of you asking what is wrong with this provision or that provision of the bill should first be asking, "What is the reason for the change?" - or do we give government a pass when it interferes with those organizations we don't like? Ah, yes. If the Council passed a bill interfering with the contract arbitration process affecting businesses doing business with the county instead of employee organizations, perhaps you would be paying more attention to the stacking of the deck. How about each year we let Bill Belichick personally choose all the referees for the NFL? Oh,...he does? OK, bad example.

Collective bargaining is the law of the land in MD, and if you really believe it is such a problem, compare apples to apples - Montgomery County working employees to Fairfax County working employees. Union v. Right to Work. Then compare the salaries of the elected officials at the top in the same jurisdictions. Perhaps you will see the real problem.

Anonymous said...

Some answers:

"County employees have benefits better than most private sector employees in the area, in terms of health care and retirement plans."

- not true. Look at total compensation and lifetime compensation and you will see that County employees are far behind those they serve.

"there were people from the audience who testified in favor of the bill"

- There were three who spoke in favor of the bill and each one has a connection to the council. Vernon Ricks, sat on the Organizational Reform Commission and has participated in several Council and Executive committees. Scott Vosler a former County Council member. Joan Fidler is a retired federal worker receiving government benefits that represents MoCo Taxpayer League. There were a total of 32 speakers.

"Because someone who has been a judge for several decades can't be trusted to impartial or objective on any issue."

- It is more about knowledge than partiality. Labor law, like family law, contract law, etc., are specialties. You wouldn't want an emergency room doctor suturing your facial laceration when you could have a plastic surgeon.

"Dyer @ 7:09 PM - Who appoints the arbitrators?"

- Currently the arbitrators in impasse arbitration are chosen by mutual agreement. Absent an agreement the law provides the arbitrator will be selected from a list provided by an outside organization - the AAA. Each side strikes out a name until one is reached. The proposed change would provide a panel of three arbitrators. One chosen by union. One chosen by County and the third agreed on. Absent an agreement, the third member comes from a list chosen by and maintained by the Council, so the County gets two as long as the County Executive refuses to agree on the third.

The Council's goal is that the unions lose at arbitration and the Council does not have to be the bad guy at budget time and feel it at the polls. Also, five of the current Councilmembers plan to run for County Executive when they are ousted by Ficker's term-limits bill.

Anonymous said...

2:10PM Thanks for posting. Your explanation of who appoints the arbitrators and the possible conflict was much better than many I've read.

Anonymous said...

2:10 PM - Thanks for the explanation of how the arbitrators are currently chosen, and are proposed to be chosen per the bill. But I fail to see how the proposal for the panel of three arbitrators will somehow be more biased against unions than the current single arbitrator.

"[A] panel of three arbitrators. One chosen by union. One chosen by County and the third agreed on. Absent an agreement, the third member comes from a list chosen by and maintained by the Council, so the County gets two as long as the County Executive refuses to agree on the third."

I guess I don't follow your arithmetic. By saying that "the County gets two", you're implying that the union only gets one. As I see it, each party gets one, plus the one that they agree on. So they both "get two", or at least one and a half each.

Anonymous said...

"The core value of conservativism is that you do not make change unless change is needed. Then, you make an appropriate change."

You're taking a political label and twisting it beyond all recognition. Conservatives in the USA are anti-union, and have been for many decades.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the recent comment of how the county gets two picks:
The proposed amendment says that if the county and the union can't agree to neutral third retired judge, then they default to a panel of judges SELECTED BY THE COUNTY COUNCIL. The County Council will simply appoint friendly judges who know where their paycheck is coming from and if I were the county executive, I would simply not agree to anyone and then pick one of the council's friends who they have appointed. That is where you get 2 picks from. If you were in a legal dispute with someone would you want them to be able to pick the judge or arbitrator or pick from a pool of people the opposing party selected?

On a side note I would say that why would anyone want a person who has little to no experience in labor law deciding labor issues. I certainly wouldn't go to an eye doctor for a heart condition. Sure they are both doctors but they specialize in different areas. Same for judges.

Thanks for writing this Robert Dyer! You have my vote next time around.

Anonymous said...

The same county council members that claim progressive values when they support developers and moneyed interests actively legislate against working people when they have the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Republicans have an opportunity to gain the backing of the unions if they play their cards right. If Republicans can learn to work together with the unions they might stand a fighting chance of actually winning in Montgomery County. Right now we are outnumbered 2 to 1. Not good odds and even worse when some of the most influential political groups are against you. Remember Howie Dennis?? He was a moderate Republican who worked well with the unions. Someone like him could slip back in in 2018. He also happened to be the last Republican to sit on the county council, now 10 years ago. Wake up people.. Robert Dyer is right on track, we need more like him.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:47 PM - And Babe Ruth will emerge from retirement and defeat the Martians.

Dyer's followers are a hoot.

You do remember that Denis (the correct spelling) was voted out by the people of Montgomery County in 2006?

Anonymous said...

Not sure about the system in MoCo but I contribute 7.7% a check to my pension fund.we also recently opted to enroll into a post employment health fund in case the medical benefits change down the line.

I completely respect the desire to compare benefits but honestly instead of attacking union workers, why not attack shitty employment by private sectors?

Yes unions can strip a system of funds by bad negotiated terms but if managed properly there is little negative impact.

This is a complex issue but simply stripping unions may not be the answer. I get it, personally I have pros and cons of being a union employee but eliminating someone's ability to negotiate is bad. As a public servant I need insurance that if I do everything right but still get I injured, I wont be thrown to the wolves. I work hard for a modest living. I love the community I serve and live within that community.