City of Santa Fe, labor union clash over hired contract workers

Sean P. Thomas, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·2 min read

Apr. 9—The city of Santa Fe and the union that represents most of its workers are headed for another date with the New Mexico Public Employees Labor Relations Board.

The board is scheduled to hear a complaint Monday and Tuesday from the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees alleging the city violated its collective bargaining agreement by contracting on-call vegetation removal services.

"They are supposed to contact us for approval," local union Vice President Gil Martinez said. "They need to justify to us the need. They need to show us the money savings by doing it. They need to show us that we do not have the staff qualified for doing it."

The city said in a statement this is the first time the union has brought a grievance related to contractual services, though language in the bargaining agreement has remained the same for years. The city called the union's interpretation of the language "new."

"The contracting-out language in the union contract has remained the same for several years," the statement said, "and the City has utilized contractual services for many years. This is the first time AFSCME has raised this as a concern."

The complaint, filed in October, said the union became aware of a request for proposals in March 2020 seeking submissions for "On Call Project Management/Owner Representative Services."

The union was told the request was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the complaint said, but it was brought back for a vote in September.

The union said it was never notified of the request for proposals.

However, the city said in a statement it provided the union with a 30-day notice of its intent to seek the weed-removal contract.

The city said none of its employees was affected by the contract, and if the state labor board ruled in favor of the union, it would "slow the city's ability to provide services, such as weed removal in public places."

Martinez said he would prefer the city fill vacant positions to handle weed removal, rather than hire contract workers.

"Everyone complains about the medians not being maintained," he said. "Well, fill the positions. There is no staff to do them."

The complaint represents the second rift between the city and the union in the past year.

The union is seeking back pay for last year's pandemic-related employee furloughs. The labor relations board found the city was in violation of its collective bargaining agreement with the union when it failed to properly notify the union of furloughs.

The city and the union are trying to calculate how much back pay union employees are owed.

Martinez said the relationship between the city and the union is "more than sour" at this point.

"The mayor keeps saying things are great, but we are probably the furthest apart we've ever been," he said.