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News :: Education : Labor : Politics
Springfield unions fight back against control board attacks
by Bryan G. Pfeifer
Email: bgp (nospam) iacboston.org
Phone: (413) 549-3545
19 Jan 2005
Members of Springfield’s Finance Control Board, under the guise of achieving fiscal solvency, are stepping up their attacks on workers and their communities here. Special targets are vital city services and public-sector union workers like the teachers who are entering their fourth year of a wage freeze. On Dec. 21, Philip Puccia, the Financial Board’s executive director sent a letter to the Springfield Education Association informing the 2,500 teachers and 3,000 retirees in the teachers' union that the board was going to vote at its next meeting to increase deductibles and co-payments for all services except office visits and prescription drugs effective April 1.
Springfield unions fight back against control board attacks
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
SPRINGFIELD, MA -- Members of Springfield’s Finance Control Board, under the guise of achieving fiscal solvency, are stepping up their attacks on workers and their communities here. Special targets are vital city services and public-sector union workers like the teachers who are entering their fourth year of a wage freeze.
On Dec. 21, Philip Puccia, the Financial Board’s executive director sent a letter to the Springfield Education Association informing the 2,500 teachers and 3,000 retirees in the teachers' union that the board was going to vote at its next meeting to increase deductibles and co-payments for all services except office visits and prescription drugs effective April 1. If implemented, the maximum out-of-pocket increases would be $1,000 per person, or $2,000 per family for in-network medical care annually.
After the board voted in the changes, the Massachusetts Teachers Association on behalf of the SEA filed a complaint Dec. 29 claiming the board violated collective bargaining by unilaterally imposing the fee hikes without bargaining over them with the union. The union also claims that board members violated state labor laws by personally contacting workers about the insurance fee increases while union negotiators were bargaining with the board.
Traditionally the union has bargained with the City Council’s School Committee for contracts but the legislation creating the control board gave the right of bargaining with the teachers to the board.
SEA president Tim Collins, claims that, despite the board members assertions, collective bargaining rights were preserved in the law creating the board.
“They are absolutely violating the law,” said Collins. “By trying to wring more money out of employees the Control Board is going to drive more good teachers out of the system and hurt the quality of education in our schools – and they know it.”
Many union members in Springfield, a significant number of whom are African American, Latino/a and women, charge that privatization and de-regulation are the board member’s real goals.
Besides attempting to set a precedent for violating collective bargaining rights, the board has contracted with various consulting firms to “analyze” many unionized public sector workforces in the city including the fire departments, the payroll system, on-street parking enforcement and many other city departments including the largest, the Department of Public Works (DPW) which does solid waste disposal, street repair, plowing and numerous other jobs. The board is also “investigating” food service, information technology, bus service and office supply services in the school departments.
The consultants are being instructed by the board to recommend whether various departments or service components should be retained, put out for “competitive” bidding, outsourcing, lease or sale. Consultant’s proposals for DPW suggestions are due Jan. 24.
“We expect the return will more than outweigh any cost that may be incurred. Much of what the control board is doing is trying to analyze the operations of all city departments to compare them to industry-best practices and see if and where there may be efficiencies to be gained,“ said Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia Jan. 3 (www.masslive.com).
The Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives passed “An Act Relative to the Financial Stability in the City of Springfield,” in early July 2004 signed immediately into law by Gov. Mitt Romney (www.mass.gov). The act mandated the five-member board as well as an executive and assistant director whose salaries are paid by the city.
The act mandates the board’s existence until 2007 and provides for measures regarding receivership should the board not make Springfield “solvent.” The board’s has full control of the municipal budget and spending and its decision-making powers supersede the Mayor and the City Council thereby legally side-stepping elected city officials.
The justification for the act was a deficit of $23 million in its 2004 annual budget of $442.3 million. As part of the act, the state transferred $52 million from its general fund to the Springfield Fiscal Recovery Trust Fund to balance the books for 2004.
Prominent banking and financial interests are represented on the board.
Administration and Finance Secretary Eric Kriss, responsible for appointments, named current state Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge, former Vice Chairman of the Taxes Division for PricewaterhouseCoopers; Jake Jacobson, a Harvard and MIT graduate billed as a “turn around specialist” by Romney for his experience in management consulting for corporations like Vetco Gray, a $500 million oil services firm; and Tom Trimarco, a graduate of Dartmouth, former chairman of the state’s retirement fund, a former advisor at the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and a Counselor for U.S. Ambassador Volpe in Rome.
The Mayor of Springfield, currently Charles Ryan, and the City Council president, currently Timothy J. Rooke, by virtue of their offices, are automatically on the board.
The executive director, Puccia, with an annual salary of $130,000, is the former head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) where in 1997, a former MBTA chief administrator, Roberta Edwards, an African American woman, sued Puccia for sexual and racist harassment after being fired. Although a judge dismissed the claims against Puccia, a jury in June 2001 awarded Edwards damages. In 1998 after she initiated her suit, Edwards called Puccia “a racist, a harasser, and a ‘pit bull’.”
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, during Puccia’s tenure, reported that the MBTA was rife with sexual and racist harassment in the workplace, in its hiring practices and worker grievances. In 1997 the Federal Transit Administration issued a report that detailed the concentration of female and workers of color in low-level classifications. In one example about 60 percent of the MBTA’s 1, 441 female workers held clerical jobs in 1996 and about 30 percent of the 1,931 workers of color at the time were working in maintenance jobs.
After leaving the MBTA in 1999, Puccia has run the Washington-D.C-based Adelphi Capital, a consulting business on transportation technology
The board’ s assistant director, David P. Panagore worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the 1990s and most recently worked in a similar job in San Jose, California.
Despite Springfield’s demographics which are 53 percent women and almost 50 percent people of color, there are no representatives from these populations on the board or any labor or community representatives. All members are white and male.
The war and the economic crisis
On October 15, 2004 the Pioneer Valley Labor Council, a federation of over 50 labor unions in the greater Springfield area, sponsored a rally attended by about 4,000 rank-and-file union and community members throughout Western Massachusetts and the state.
Besides the recent actions of the control board, over the past two years the city has laid off over 300 workers and froze wages amid other measures which the unions are fighting with grievances and arbitration proceedings.
Union members and allies at the rally emphasized that the city’s situation is somewhat a manufactured “crisis” on the state level as the city historically has received less state funds than more affluent and majority white cities. And on the federal level, because of the U.S. war on Iraq, the increasing Pentagon budget and the savaging of spending for social programs, block grants and other federal assistance are increasingly pared down or cut outright.
The workers demanded a moratorium on cuts to wages and benefits for Springfield's workers and to demand from Gov. Romney and other elected officials that Springfield receive an adequate share of state money to achieve solvency.
“I’ve come here today to say to Gov. Romney that we are not going to stand idly by while we let you bust unions and take away wages that have been negotiated and rightfully earned,” said Henry E. Twiggs, chair of Springfield’s Democratic City Committee and the only African American to speak at the rally.
This militant spirit and the increasing unity and solidarity between the independent anti-war and labor movements best represented by the Million Worker March, are critical in forging a serious fight back in Springfield and other cities across the United States where the current capitalist economic crisis has just begun to take hold.
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Union labor donated
© 2005 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be reprinted in full or in part provided full attribution given to author.
This work is in the public domain.
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