The Forest Park Village Council approved a contract with its mechanics union at last week’s meeting, but only after one commissioner questioned its terms and accused the village administrator – who did the negotiating – of keeping information from him.
The contract is a four-year deal with Automobile Mechanics Local 701, the union that village mechanic George Prescott belongs to. Under the deal, Prescott currently makes $27.89 an hour, and will receive 2- to 3-percent hourly pay hikes, per year, until the contract expires in April 2014.
When Mayor Anthony Calderone brought the contract up for a vote and invited a discussion, Commissioner Chris Harris chided Village Administrator Tim Gillian for not providing ample information about negotiations. He also criticized parts of the deal. Harris said he was concerned because, as commissioner of public property, overseeing matters related to the village’s mechanic is part of his job description.
“How many questions have I asked you about George Prescott?” Harris said to Gillian. He then called Gillian’s actions “delinquent.”
Gillian replied that most of the negotiations took place before Harris was seated in May. Gillian said most of the deal was reached in April and May of this year. He admitted to not giving Harris blow-by-blow information, but noted that even if he did, Harris could not have done anything because many of the contract terms had already been agreed to by the time he was seated in May.
“It’s impossible to go backward. … That’s called regressive bargaining,” Gillian told Harris, citing an unfair labor practice. Gillian said he didn’t give Harris the updates he was asking for “because it didn’t seem relevant.”
“I just didn’t think of it,” Gillian said. “But for you to insinuate that I kept information from you is not true.”
Harris also pointed out that the village needed to be more “stiff” with the contracts it agrees to. He took issue with giving Prescott 18 sick days and the roughly 3-percent increases that the mechanic will now receive in his hourly pay rate each year until 2014.
To the latter point, Village Attorney Nick Peppers pointed out that, cumulatively, the per-year increases to Prescott’s salary over the life of the contract come out to $7,000.
Prescott’s work for the village has earned him roughly $70,000 in annual wages for at least the last three years.
Furthermore, he told Harris, if the village were to try to renegotiate the deal, it could face unfair labor claims that could mean legal fees between $25,000 and $50,000.
Harris reminded the board and the audience that he was at a disadvantage because Gillian didn’t provide him with enough information about the negotiations and because most of the discussions occurred before he was seated.
“You may not like that [village business] carries over,” to the next council, Peppers told Harris, but “that doesn’t mean we start right over,” with contract negotiations.
“If you don’t like it, vote against it. That’s your remedy,” Peppers added.
Harris tried to table the item, but it failed for lack of a second vote.
In the end, the contract was approved by a 4-1 vote.
Marty Tellalian, the former commissioner of public property who lost his seat following an unsuccessful mayoral bid, was in attendance. In a later phone conversation, he echoed some of Harris’ concerns.
Tellalian disputed Gillian’s claim that the previous council was kept abreast of information surrounding the negotiations during his tenure.
“This was not presented to me at any time,” Tellalian said. “[Gillian] got no input from me.”
“I feel bad for Chris, I know what it’s like to be kept out,” he added.
Tellalian said he doesn’t remember the contract ever being discussed in closed session either.
When asked about this, Calderone said it was “absolutely” discussed in closed session. He added that, during his 16-year career in village politics, as both mayor and commissioner, every contract that has ever been considered has gone to executive session. But he conceded that Harris might not have been “fully briefed” on the matter.
“I agree we can work to find a better way … to bring newly elected officials up to speed,” said Calderone, who voted for the contract.
He added that Gillian’s negotiating was “above average.”
During the council meeting, both commissioners Tom Mannix and Mark Hosty lauded Gillian’s negotiating and said they were given information when they asked for it. Hosty also said that, as commissioner of accounts and finance, it was his job to oversee all contracts, and he was satisfied with the information he had been given and the terms of the deal.
Hosty also told Harris that, because Gillian did the negotiating, the village did not have to pay an attorney to do it. Calderone said the village has paid attorneys between $7,000 and $20,000 to negotiate contracts in the past.
Harris challenged this point in a later discussion.
“A professional negotiator can negotiate a better contract. [Gillian is] an unqualified person. How do we know he’s saving us money [on the contract]?” Harris said. “Am I supposed to take his word for it?”
Tellalian also said he thought the contract was too generous, and pointed to last year’s contract between the village and the firefighters union. The firefighters agreed to a pay freeze in the first year of the two-year deal, followed by a 1-percent raise that occurred on April 30 of this year, and a 2-percent hike that came the next day. Gillian negotiated that contract too.
“It’s not consistent,” Tellalian said. “It doesn’t make sense that we would be that generous. The reason we have difficulty negotiating contracts is because we have these increases. Every time you enter negotiations, they look back at the previous contract.”