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News :: Labor
Unions resist control board's attacks
by Bryan G. Pfeifer
Email: bgp (nospam) iacboston.org (verified)
Phone: (413) 549-3545
26 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.
Unions resist control board's attacks
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Members of Springfield's Finance Control Board, under the guise of achieving fiscal solvency, are stepping up their attacks on workers and their communities. 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 Control Board's executive director, sent a letter to the Springfield Education Association informing the 2,500 teachers and 3,000 retirees in the teacher's union that the board was going to vote at its next meeting to increase deductibles and co-payments for all medical 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 with the Massachusetts Labor Rela tions Commission. The MTA asserted the board violated collective bargaining by unilaterally imposing the fee hikes without negotiating them with the union. Traditionally the union negotiated with the City Council's School Committee. The union maintains this bargaining responsibility now goes to the board, based on the legislation that created the board.
SEA president Tim Collins says of the Finance Control Board: "They are abso lutely violating the law. By trying to wring more money out of employees, the 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, Latin@ and women, charge that privatization and de-regulation are the board members' real goals.
Besides attempting to set a precedent for violating collective bargaining rights, the Control Board has contracted with various consulting firms to "analyze" many unionized public sector workforces in the city. The consultants are being instructed to recommend whether various departments or services should be retained, put out for "competitive" bidding, outsourced, leased or sold.
The board has targeted almost all aspects of public work, including the fire department, the payroll system, on-street parking enforcement and many other city departments. The largest is the Depart ment of Public Works, 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 department.
Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia said on Jan. 3: "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." (www.masslive.com)
Big Business Takes Over
The mission of the five-member Control Board is to make Springfield "solvent." The board 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. But the board members' salaries, as well as those of an executive and assistant director, are paid by the city.
The Massachusetts legislature created the board in early July 2004 through a bill signed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. The justification was Spring field's deficit of $23 million in its 2004 annual budget of $442.3 million. (www.mass.gov)
The composition of the board shows the determination of powerful financial and political interests to protect their investments in the city.
Members include current state Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge, who is a former Vice Chairman of Pricewater house Coopers, which provides "industry-focused assurance tax services," as well as Tom Trimarco, former chair of the state's retirement fund and a former advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A third member is 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. The mayor of Spring field, Charles Ryan and City Council Presi dent Timothy J. Rooke, by virtue of their offices, are automatically on the board.
The executive director, Puccia, with an annual salary of $130,000, most recently ran the Washington, D.C-based Adelphi Capital, a consulting business on transportation technology. Puccia is the former head of the Massachusetts Bay Transpor tation Authority where, in 1997, a chief administrator, Roberta Edwards, an African- American woman, sued him for sexual and racist harassment after being fired. Although a judge initially dismissed the claims against Puccia, a jury in June 2001 awarded Edwards damages.
During her suit, Edwards called Puccia "a racist, a harasser, and a 'pit bull.'" That his behavior represented system-wide discrimination shows up in a report from the Massachusetts Commission Against Dis crimination. The commission documents that during Puccia's tenure, the MBTA was rife with sexual and racist harassment in the workplace, in its hiring practices and worker grievances. In 1997 the Federal Tran sit Administration exposed the concentration of female and workers of color in low-level classifications at the MBTA.
The disenfranchisement of workers, women and people of color continues in the makeup of the Springfield Finance Control Board. Despite the city'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. Instead, all members are white and male.
The war and the economic crisis
The Pioneer Valley Labor Council, a federation of more than 50 labor unions in the greater Springfield area, has organized to oppose the board's high-handed anti-worker activities. Beside the recent actions of the Control Board, over the past two years the city has laid off more than 300 workers and frozen wages amid other mea sures that the unions are fighting with grievances and arbitration proceedings.
On Oct. 15, 2004, the Labor Council sponsored a rally attended by about 4,000 rank-and-file union and community mem bers from Western Massachusetts and throughout the state.
Union members and allies at the rally emphasized that the city's situation is a crisis manufactured at the state level because the city historically has received less state funding than more affluent and majority-white cities, and thus is at a constant disadvantage in meeting its budget needs.
And because of the U.S. war on Iraq, the increasing Pentagon budget and drastic cuts in social programs, the city has suffered as federal block grants are increasingly pared down or cut outright.
At the rally the workers demanded a moratorium on cuts in wages and benefits for Springfield's workers and demanded that the city 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, African American chair of Springfield's Democratic City Committee.
This militant spirit-and the increasing unity and solidarity between the independent anti-war and labor movements best represented by the Million Worker March-promise to forge 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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(c) 2005 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be reprinted in full or in part provided full attribution is given to author.
This work is in the public domain