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Wednesday, November 24,2010

10th floor discontent

Two Lansing City Council employees look to join a union amid what the mayor calls a ‘longstanding pattern of problems’

by Andy Balaskovitz
Two Lansing City Council employees have filed requests for representation through the Teamsters Local 580 union.

One employee said she wants job security after speaking out against a temporary contract for a retired coworker who worked for the city for 23 years. She said she has received “some flak” from some City Council members who thought she should have kept mum about the contract.


City Council principal clerk Danielle Stubbs and administrative secretary Diana Bitely contacted the Teamsters last month. Bitely acknowledged the contact but would not comment. However, Stubbs said the two approached the union so they could have more job security and bargaining recourse.


“We don’t want to get fired,” Stubbs said.


Stubbs’ concerns stem from comments she made at an Aug. 30 Council meeting when she spoke against the temporary contract for retired legislative office manager Terese Horn. Horn retired Aug. 27. The Council approved her return as a contract employee in September to train a replacement for herself.


Stubbs declined to name the Council members she says gave her a hard time.


“Hostile is hostile,” Stubbs said referring to the work environment following her Council comments. City Attorney Brig Smith has said a “hostile” work environment refers specifically to sexual harassment. Stubbs said it’s “not about that,” but that the office is generally “uncomfortable.”


At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries and Carol Wood and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt also objected to granting Horn the contract. Each thought it was a case of “double-dipping” because Horn gets her pension and retiree benefits on top of a $29.44 hourly wage. However, Smith disagreed because Horn would be collecting those benefits, which she has paid into, regardless of working again for the city.


The main reason for keeping Horn on temporarily was to give her time to train a replacement. The contract is for a year, yet Stubbs thinks either she or Bitely could learn the job in less than a month.


“She (Horn) should have either retired or stayed on full time,” Stubbs said. “She should have allowed for upward mobility there.”


Councilman Derrick Quinney, who is on the Council’s Personnel Committee, has said Horn deserves the contract because of her 23 years with the city and the need to train someone new. The Personnel Committee is in the process of hiring Horn’s replacement, for which Stubbs interviewed.


Stubbs has been working in the City Clerk’s Office on the ninth floor at City Hall (the Council offices are on the 10th floor) since October to help with the election, but will return upstairs Dec. 1, she said. There she will share cubicle space with Bitely and Horn.


The Council will decide at an executive session whether to grant Stubbs’ and Bitely’s request or to have it go for a vote. It would take five votes to block their request. Representation would cover all Council workers.


Lynne Meade, vice president of the Teamsters Local 580, said the Teamsters were approached because Stubbs and Bitely wanted a “grievance procedure.”


“The work rules and inner-office workings — they wanted a grievance procedure they could follow so their voice would be heard,” Meade said.


The “simplest” thing to do is add them to the existing Clerical, Technical, Professional Bargaining Unit Agreement between the city and the Local 580, she said, which includes about 250 city employees.


The Council’s recommendation goes to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, which makes the final decision, Meade said.


Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said there seems to be “a longstanding pattern of problems, dating back years” between the Council and Council employees.


“The shame of it is to see the politics of the Council here — there is no reason that needs to spill over into personnel,” Bernero said.


Bernero couldn’t say for sure if unionizing is a proper response to the employees’ problems with some Council members — he does not have the authority, based on City Charter rules, to intervene.


“People have the right to representation and freedom of association,” he said.


“Maybe they need to change some of the moving parts. Maybe it’s not the employees, but some of the employers? Of course, there is an election next year.”


This is not the first time controversy poured out of the 10th floor offices.


In 2005, legislative analyst Ron Wilson resigned after being charged with assaulting coworker and office manager Tina Gallante. The charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Months later, Gallante sued the city for $1.6 million and settled for an undisclosed amount, claiming some City Council members retaliated against her for blowing the whistle on Wilson.


In 2004, the city settled for $120,000 with former City Council receptionist Heather Eman over sexual harassment claims against former City Council President Louis Adado. Adado eventually resigned over the matter.


“It’s problematic because it’s costing the city money,” Bernero said. “The public needs to know about the mismanagement up there.”


Then Bernero suggested a common denominator for all of the problems: Wood, an at-large Councilwoman.


“From what I can gather, she is a de facto manager by virtue of the time she puts in,” he said. Wood spends full time in the City Council offices, even though it is a part-time job.


“It’s unhealthy, really,” he added.


Wood disagrees, saying she is not involved with the Personnel Committee, which oversees the hiring of Council employees.


“It’s a shame he’s (Bernero) decided to move it to this level,” Wood said. “We don’t get into his staff and who he hires.”

Wood denies that Council members are taking sides either for Horn or Stubbs.

The
City Council hiring process works like this: the Personnel Committee
initiates a selection process and interviews candidates for City Council
office positions. The committee makes a recommendation for a candidate
to the full Council. Five votes are needed by the Council to hire the person.


The
Personnel Committee is also responsible for handling disciplinary
actions, performance evaluations and job descriptions for the Council
staff.


Council
President A’Lynne Robinson, who is vice chairwoman of the committee,
said the Council has not yet deliberated on the issue and would not
comment.


Stubbs emphasized that she hopes the situation with the union and Horn’s contract works out positively.


“At
the end of the day, what people remember about you the most is how you
treat them,” she said. “I want this to be a positive outcome. I want to
go back to my job and be at peace.”

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