Late concerns nearly derail NSASSP contract

Late concerns nearly derail NSASSP contract

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Last minute concerns over town employees' ability to work together and collaborate between departments nearly derailed a deal between the School Committee and members of the North Smithfield Association of Support Staff Personnel that had been two years in the making.

The three-year contract, which gives union members raises of 2.5 percent per year, was ultimately approved last week on a 3-1 vote. A provision in the Town Charter requiring the North Smithfield Town Council to have the final say on union contracts was approved by voters in 2014.

The agreement, which was approved by both the School Committee and union membership in April, had gone before the council for a hearing last month that brought out no public feedback. But as it came before the board for a final reading last Monday, Charter Review Commission Chairman Paul Vadenais stood up.

“We'd like to see some language added to this contract,” Vadenais told the council.

Vadenais said his board wanted adjustments to the agreement that allowed services, such as snow-plowing, grass cutting and the sharing of equipment, to be transferred between town departments. “I think you should try to get the language in this contract. It creates opportunities.”

NSASSP President Robert Lowe objected to the proposed last-minute change.

“I'd think strongly before holding this contract up,” said Lowe. “We've always tried to solve problems and work together. This is the fourth meeting to get this signed.”

Any additions to the language, he noted, would need to go back before the union.

“I don't have the authority to say go ahead and do it. To bring it up this late in time is ludicrous to us,” said Lowe.

Town Council President John Beauregard said he was in favor of the language change.

“That's not a big deal what he's asking for. Maybe you should take your 2.5 and run,” he told Lowe, referencing the raises.

The union, which represents the town’s teacher assistants, custodians, clerks, and school secretaries, has worked without a contract since their last agreement with the town expired in June of 2015.

“We're going to prolong it another month. It's craziness,” said Lowe.

Councilor Paul Zwolenski also questioned the timing, pointing out that the contract had the approval of not only the School Committee, but also the union and the Budget Committee.

“Now at the 11th hour we're facing verbiage,” Zwolenski said.

Vadenais told council members that he had tried unsuccessfully to get the issue before the School Committee's negotiating team. After years of unsucessful attempts to broker a deal, that team, led by School Committee Chairman James Lombardi, was brought together last December and quickly made strides with NSASSP leadership.

"I was not approached on this issue when we were negotiating and came in with an agreement with the union," Lombardi told The Breeze this week. "It was brought to my attention following the first public hearing before the council and it was not brought public."

"My reaction is, this is covered in the town charter, and while it would be a good thing to have, it's not necessity," he said.

But Beauregard pointed to an incident over the winter where town employees and union members had a disagreement over who was supposed to plow the Kendall Dean parking lot. NSASSP staff typically maintains the building, but members of a nearby church had called Town Administrator Gary Ezovski to ask if parishioners could park there to attend services during a storm, and the administrator sent a town employee to do the job. The decision, it seems, caused some tension between the workers.

“We don't want situations where two people are yelling at each other through the windows of a truck,” said Ezovski. “Do I think there needs to be better opportunity to work together? Yes, absolutely.”

Ezovski suggested the council could approve the contract contingent on the new language being worked in.

“I think it's a good idea,” he said.

Lowe again objected.

“We have been working together in all the years that I've been on the board,” he said of his previous experience with public works.

Lowe said that while he would gladly having discussion about creating a more formal process for collaboration, it would be unfair to hold up the deal.

“There's a reason why you negotiate things,” Lowe said, adding of the town's public works director, “Mr. Pendergast has been the greatest person to work for.”

It was Pendergast who finally ended the debate.

“As far as I'm concern there's never been an issue,” he said. “I have union people who work for me. They won't go against other union people.”

“Work this out another time, don't hold up this contract,” he said.

Only Beauregard voted against the agreement in the 3-1 approval. Councilor Daniel Halloran abstained from the vote citing a family conflict.

Comments

When unions start pointing the finger at one another over whose job it is, all respect is lost from the taxpayer.Would not be an issue in the private sector

Always a union problem. Privatize the service and enjoy the flexibility. Is someone still on workers comp.

Some people could complicate a toothpick.

I had to call it out, your comment made me LAUGH.