In January 2020, serious negotiations began on a new contract between Mayor Alan Webber’s administration and a union representing hundreds of city workers – five months before a collective agreement approved under a previous government expired.
Although there was a brief hiatus just before the pandemic began, the city’s management team and the heads of Local 3999 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have met almost every Thursday to negotiate a deal since then.
But 22 months later, the two sides are still haggling over the details of a new contract and have almost stalled.
“We’re almost at the point where it’s no longer productive,” said Gil Martinez, the union’s vice president. “I think we don’t even know where to go yet.”
What management and union disagree about is a closely guarded secret because negotiations should be confidential.
“I can speak in general, but I can’t give you any specifics about what they’re taking off or anything,” said Martinez, who appeared to be suggesting that the union is not about to give up.
“We have the contract that we have because we worked decades to get to this point. You know, every time you negotiate, you’re trying to improve the contract, so there are a lot of things in our contract that it took us 25 years to do, ”he said.
The city declined a request for interviews with HR director Bernadette Salazar and other members of the city’s management team involved in the negotiations.
“Under the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act, collective bargaining is supposed to be closed and it is not appropriate to discuss at this point,” wrote city spokesman Dave Herndon in an email.
Union president Gilbert Baca, who has been put on paid administrative leave for alleged time card fraud and is exposed to possible dismissal, also declined to disclose the delay in contract negotiations.
“We really can’t tell you anything because we’re sitting at the table,” said Baca. “We are taciturn because if I tell you something and it reaches you, then you will submit [an accusation of] Negotiating badly because I go to the media because this has happened before. “
Herndon wrote that the existing contract with Local 3999 “has and will continue to exist” until it is replaced by a new agreement.
“We have further agreed with AFSCME on the remuneration of our hardworking employees and have successfully negotiated three changes, all of them [of which] has given members a financial advantage, ”he wrote.
The changes include up to $ 2,100 in retention incentive salaries for transit workers, $ 933,857 to fund raises to implement the Classification and Compensation Study, $ 223,000 for equity increases, and 4 percent pay increases this year.
The contract required a grading and compensation survey, but no salary increases, Hendon wrote.
“This is the first time in at least 13 years that the city has actually conducted a study,” he wrote.
The existing three-year contract from July 2017 to June 2020 included annual adjustments to the base salary by 2 percent as well as a number of perks for employees, such as free use of the city buses and the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.
Employees who perform certain types of work receive additional benefits. For example, workers who are required to wear a uniform receive a uniform fee of $ 500 plus $ 200 for shoes, and swimming instructors and lifeguards are entitled to $ 600 a year to buy swimwear, t-shirts, shorts and sweatpants and up to $ 100 for “water / amphibious deck shoes”.
The contract provides health insurance benefits known as the “Cadillac of Plans,” which mayors and councilors are also entitled to.
The city previously refused, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), to disclose which elected officials use these health insurance benefits.
Under the existing contract, the city pays 76.25 percent of health insurance costs, 65 percent of dental costs, and up to $ 175 annually for prescription glasses and contacts.
The contract was negotiated under the administration of former Mayor Javier Gonzales, who refused to say whether the benefits were generous. In a text message, he wrote that he had pledged to his employer, the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation, which he joined last year as Vice President and Chief Development Officer, to “stay out of comments when it comes to city news.”
Connie Derr, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 18, did not return a message for a comment. Council 18 is the umbrella organization for local AFSCME unions across the state, including Local 3999.
In the past, union leaders have complained that Local 3999 is not getting the representation it needs or deserves from AFSCME Council 18.
Martinez said Local 3999 membership has shrunk in recent years under the Webber administration.
“We currently have around 450 members with over 200 vacant union positions that this administration has refused to fill,” he said. “Historically the union has always had 700 members, some give or take. [But] The city’s workers carry a huge burden just to keep the city afloat. “
For example, Martinez said, prior to a series of annexations on the south side of Santa Fe, the city employed about 145 park workers.
“With the annexation and new parks, paths and road facilities, we now have around 45 park workers,” he said. “The city has grown from 64,000 inhabitants to 88,000 inhabitants and our staff has shrunk enormously.”
Likewise, the goodwill between the union and the Webber administration.
The two sides had a difficult relationship, characterized by hearings of complaints, a vote of no confidence in the mayor and a dispute over vacation days, which the administration conducted last year in violation of the union agreement.
The leave of absence, which local 3999 leaders said was the most hurtful to workers at the bottom of the salary ladder, has driven a deep wedge between the mayor and the union.
The existing collective agreement allows management, in emergency situations, to “take the measures necessary to fulfill the employer’s mandate and which may not implicitly follow all the articles of the agreement”.
However, it also states that affected workers must be notified in writing at least 28 days in advance if leave is introduced, a provision that the administration has not followed.
The vacation battle went to the New Mexico Public Employee Relations Committee, and a hearing officer recommended in early July that the city repay $ 521,231 in lost wages and provisions to Local 3999 members and a handful of employees with Buckman Direct Diversion.
Martinez, the union’s vice president, said Local 3999 and the city’s management team had agreed in a new contract on what he called the “boilerplate things”.
“But now that the details are on we’re at completely opposite ends,” he said. “The city is far on one side and we’re completely on the other side and when it comes to finding a deal it’s been very, very difficult and we’ve been in it for 22 months.”
In the past three months, Martinez said, he had not thought that the two sides had “not even agreed on a tiny word”.