Council to ponder exemption written into city lawyers’ move to union

NORWALK, Conn. – Just before he headed out the door, former Mayor Richard Moccia signed a tentative agreement with Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association (NASA) President Al Palumbo setting forth the terms and conditions of employment under which the city’s assistant corporation counsels would function when they join the NASA bargaining unit.

The agreement, if approved by the Common Council, would exempt assistant corporation counsels, currently considered Ordinance List employees, from Article X, Section 4 of the NASA contract that calls for them to be reviewed and reappointed at the end of each term for which they were hired. The only way to remove an assistant corporation counsel from the city payroll under the new agreement would be for “just cause,” and could be challenged.

Assistant corporation counsel would be the only NASA position to have the re-appointment procedure waiver at this time, restricting the city’s ability to eliminate their positions or to choose to hire someone else at a lower rate.

According to a copy of the tentative agreement, Moccia signed the deal Nov. 18, 13 days after he lost his re-election bid and the day before new Mayor Harry Rilling took office.

There are currently four positions that are covered by the tentative agreement. Diane Beltz-Jacobson, who has worked for Norwalk for more than 20 years, is paid $113,419; Brian L. McCann, hired in 2008, is paid $101, 918, and Carolyn M. Colangelo, a part-timer hired this year, makes $66,779. The fourth position is vacant.

The positions would be slotted at Grade 8 in the NASA contract and, as of July 1, would get a 2 percent raise and would get other raises negotiated for the classification in the following years. Currently, Ordinance List employee raises are decided on by the mayor, working within a framework set by the Common Council.

According to a memo from Director of Personnel H. James Haselkamp accompanying the agreement, the employees chose to join the union because of concerns about reappointment and outsourcing.

The tentative agreement is on the Tuesday night council meeting agenda, when it will be discussed in executive session, according to Rilling.

“I’m not ready to discuss that,” he said of the details of the agreement. “I recognize the right of employees to join the union, and I respect that right.”

Also on the agenda are 12 board and commission appointments, including the nomination of Greg Burnett to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

According to the city charter, all BET appointments are supposed to be made within a week of the mayoral inauguration, but Burnett is the lone appointment put forward so far.

“We are in negotiations,” said Rilling, a Democrat working with a council headed by a Republican 8-7 majority. “We had two other names but we couldn’t come to an agreement.”

Rilling said he and council President Doug Hempstead and Majority Leader Jerry Petrini are trying to work in a cooperative way, but that the negotiations have not been easy.

Petrini said Friday night that he liked the idea of hashing things out before taking them to the full council and the public.

“To me, it would be awfully embarrassing to have some of these great people come forward and want to serve civically and getting torn apart on the debate,” he said.

“We’re trying to work in a cooperative way and trying to bring a new level of cooperation between the parties to act in the best interests of the community,” Rilling said. “Hopefully we can continue to do that.”


15 responses to “Council to ponder exemption written into city lawyers’ move to union”

  1. M Allen

    “the employees chose to join the union because of concerns about reappointment and outsourcing.”
    Outsourcing. Now there’s an idea. Before the common council decides to allow four more union positions and circumventing of the ordinance perhaps they should review the need for these permanent positions altogether. Maybe outsourcing is the route that should be taken.
    Job security and just cause. I understand wanting those protections, but let’s be clear here: we’re basically allowing “for life” positions to be created here.
    It might be a good time to take a look at any other similar positions in the city’s government. Or perhaps by the time that lawyers get around to joining a union, everybody else already has.

  2. Oldtimer

    Do you really believe a for-profit law firm could, and would, provide representation to the City cheaper than in-house lawyers are doing the job now ? There is still a lot of the City’s business that goes to outside counsel for various reasons and that might warrant another close look for cost/benefit analysis. Looking at the outside lawyer’s bills, there might be big savings, even if more lawyers were hired as employees.

  3. anonymous

    Oldtimer, without the ability to compare costs, there is no way of knowing which is cheaper. One thing we know will be cheaper for these 4 lawyers, their legal fees, for themselves, once they get this added piece of protection at the taxpayer’s expense.

    Lawyers unionized against their own employers so that the taxpayer doesn’t have a way of doing something cheaper if possible.

  4. M Allen

    Oldtimer(y) – I’m not saying it would be more cost effective or that it should be done. I’m saying why not look at it? Why not determine which is the most cost effective route. It could be an army of union organized lawyers is the way to go. Maybe not. But it doesn’t hurt to look.
    And by the way, I guess these attorneys won’t be working on any issues related with the city’s unions now since you’d have to question impartiality and conflict. So I guess we’ll be outsourcing that bit.

  5. Don’t Panic

    Wow. Being in the union didn’t protect garbage pickup from outsourcing.
    This move is unseemly at best with an outgoing Mayor signing an agreement like this.

  6. Oldtmer

    All of them didn’t join the union. Jeff Spahr has been there for many years and runs the legal department. I didn’t see his name as joining a union.

  7. LWitherspoon

    Why did former Mayor Moccia, whose administration was tough on municipal employee Unions, sign an agreement on his last day in office unionizing Assistant Corporation Counsels and effectively giving them lifetime job security? Whatever the reason, we need to know before this passes through the Common Council.
    I am deeply suspicious of any agreement that expands the ranks of Unionized City employees as such agreements tend to deprive the City of flexibility that exists in the vast majority of private businesses. How many cities our size unionize the lawyers on their payrolls?

  8. M Allen

    @Oltimer – Jeff is Deputy Corporation Counsel, a different, higher-level position and one that would not be allowed to be part of a union due to his function. I think its the whole differentiation between managers and supervisors. The other ones, 3 current and one vacant position apparently don’t meet the same criteria for inclusion.
    @Don’t Panic & LWitherspoon – Moccia didn’t sign an agreement saying they could unionize. According to the original Nov 23 article on the Hour, “H. James Haselkamp, Jr., the city’s director of personnel and labor relations, said the three attorneys submitted showing-of-interest cards to the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations. The board certified the cards and the city recognized their union membership on Nov. 12.

    Haselkamp said he has asked for a legal opinion on whether a related agreement outlining the terms and conditions of the attorneys’ employment as NASA member, must go before the Common Council for approval.”
    By that I had the understanding that these employees were within their rights to organize into NASA but it is up to the common council to agree removing them or waiving them from the ordinance list. Why did Moccia sign it? Good question. Was it to give the incoming Mayor cover from having to do it? Seems unlikely. So then why perform such a late-term move on his way out the door? Why not just let it sit for Rilling. It seems odd on a number of levels, unless he knew the city wasn’t going to fight it in any way.

  9. M Allen

    @Nancy – There are obvious questions here about why Mayor Moccia signed off on this agreement so late in his term, as well as the legality of ordinance employees unionizing. Does this waiver need to be made in order to effect their joining NASA? Or is it a choice whereby the can join NASA bgut not be waived from the re-appointment requirement? What would happen if the council voted against the waiver?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @M Allen

      All we can say right now is that the waiver is something that was agreed to by Moccia. It is not part of the standard NASA contract. Why he did it? At this point, it would be conjecture. The way we understand it, the waiver is a huge part of why they are joining. As to what happens should the council reject the tentative agreement, that is also up in the air. The matter could, we believe, wind up in arbitration where the city could possibly try to get that waiver removed. Stay tuned.

  10. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    Which came first, the unionization of the Assistant Corporation Counsels, or the waiver that exempts them from having to be reappointed after their term ends?
    Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the article and MAllen’s comments but it sounded like they expressed interest in unionizing, and THEN the waiver was negotiated. If it was the other way around, why would the waiver make the Counsels want to unionize?

    Thanks for the additional details.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ L Witherspoon

      As we understand it from the documents provided, then indicated their desire to join the union, then the agreement was negotiated to waive the reappointment procedure. The entire agreement needs to be approved by the council.

  11. M Allen

    Well the waiver is to get by the ordinance, is it not? They has already joined NASA.

  12. M Allen

    One of the problems here, just in terms of the article, is not many people have a good idea of how unions are formed or how workers who were previously non-union join an existing union. Do they just turn in their interest cards to the state and poof, they are free to join? Or did/does the city have to agree with it on more than just that waiver? In other words, Did it happen TO the city, or was it allowed to happy BY the city. I can’t see how they can just join up with NASA, given that these positions were specifically covered by ordinance. Help us out here union guys. Tell us how your machine functions

  13. anonymous

    Someone stop this madness.

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