Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Who you gonna call?"

Well, buckaroos & buckarettes, the new city council and mayor of Cowtown are off to an embarrassing start to 2012, aren't they?  Not only have "do over" meetings been required to correct procedural errors but, last week, two resolutions were passed in direct conflict with each another and one of them, Resolution No. 3463, will likely result in at least a six-figure settlement paid to emergency dispatchers by damage levy. All of this could still be avoided by a motion to reconsider the resolution or a mayoral veto. Perhaps, most importantly, if the City Attorney were directed to attend city council meetings as was common practice prior to the end of the last term, both council and mayor would have been discouraged from charging so hard into the sunset before tightening their cinches.

Let's review last Tuesday's "special" meeting. First, there were two agenda items - neither of which required urgent action: a salary ordinance and a resolution to increase wages for the police chief and several police officers. The Salaary Ordinance (Resolution No. 3454) is a routine matter states that sets wages & salaries for all city employees not defined by collective bargaining agreements. As to  the latter, an important clause of the ordinance states that, "Wages & benefits (for members of Local 283B) shall be paid in accordance with their bargaining agreement." That's exactly as it should be and this ordinance passed unanimously.

Then, the Council unanimously passed Resolution No. 3463, which raised wages for some members of Local 283-B but not others. outside of union negotiations. This, of course, was a direct assault upon collective bargaining and an unfair labor practice.

There's an extra hazard in passing Resolution No. 3463. That is, every dispatcher in Local 283-B disabused of their right to collective bargaining is female and, therefore, a member of a "protected class". As such, any dispatcher could successfully sue the City of Miles City in U.S. Federal Court for gender discrimination and confidently walk away with a six figure settlement. That much isn't even debatable. 

Every incumbent member of the Council understands what they've done. This maneuver was initiated by Councilman Uden, a former MCPD officer, several months ago before cooler heads prevailed. Yet, here we are again. It's becoming apparent why this particular councilman was nicknamed "Barney Fife" when he a patrolman. To his credit, Uden recognizes that our officers are probably undercompensated. However, the wages & benefits study that was commissioned to make that determination now seems to have been abandoned in favor of simply pumping  more money into the most expensive of city departments.

I informed two of our new councilpersons in advance of this meeting of the hazards of an affirmative vote on Resolution 3463. To my disappointment, I've yet to hear back from one either of them.

Emergency dispatchers are every bit as important to public safety as patrolmen. Moreover, the rate of turnover in dispatch is higher than that of MCPD. No one has the legal or moral right to subvert the collective bargaining process. If Resolution No. 3463 isn't rescinded or vetoed during the next meeting, our emergency dispatchers should promptly,  a) file a grievance with the mayor for an unfair labor practice, namely, adjusting compensation outside of the terms of Local 283-B Collective Bargaining Agreement, and b) file a complaint with both the MT. Dept of Labor & Industry and in U.S. Federal Court against the City of Miles City for gender discrimination. One of our former police chiefs will provide them with the best attorney in the state for prosecuting such violations. 

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