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OK: Labor chief determined to let union cats out of bag  By   /   October 5, 2012  /  Stacy Martin | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s labor commissioner wants to free the state from collecting public union and employee association dues.

COSTELLO: He wants to change the way public-sector unions get their money.

Labor Commissioner Mark Costello said the practice makes Oklahoma the “bagman” for public unions to fund potentially budget-sucking political agendas, adding the practice simply makes it easier for unions to bleed taxpayers for ever-increasing costs.

Costello said unions should collect their own dues.

It’s a move that’s gaining ground in other states where public-sector union membership is plummeting.

Last year, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walkerand the Wisconsin Legislature passed collective bargaining reform that ended compulsory union dues through automatic payroll deductions, the membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee plunged by more than 50 percent.

It’s no secret the roughly 19,000-member Oklahoma Education Association, the state affiliate of the liberal National Education Association, is the main target here. In last year’s reform efforts, legislators attempted to exclude virtually every group from the measure except the OEA.

Ultimately, it failed Oklahoma’s super-majority Republican-controlled Legislature.

“It was disappointing more than surprising,” Costello said of last year’s unsuccessful push. “The obvious conflict is (that) we’re collecting dues and money that is used for political activity to lobby political candidates creates an impediment.

“If you’re taking money from people on the other side of the table that are making contributions to you, that can alter your behavior,” he said. “But as long as I’m in elected office, I’m going to advocate that the state stop being the bagman for the union bosses.”

A prime example was Oklahoma Education Association and NEA’s use of nearly $4 million from the dues to promote an increase in common education appropriations — about $850 million annually more than the $2.3 it gets billion now.

State AFL-CIO president Jim Curry said he doesn’t want to continue the paycheck protection battle, preferring instead to find common ground with policymakers.

“The labor commissioner is trying to pick a fight when all of us are trying to work together,” said Curry, whose group represents roughly 100,000 private and public sector union members.

“We already had the Right to Work fight 11 years ago and it was very divisive,” he said. “We lost. So nobody has to join a union if they don’t want to. We have come together since then and tried to work together in this state.”

Curry said the union gladly would pay the state’s cost for collecting the union dues, but he said the state couldn’t pin down the amount.

“On the 11th anniversary of passage of Right to Work this month, I personally went to Tulsa and handed Republican Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. a check for $25,000 to help with Vision 2 in Tulsa,” he said referring to a collection of economic improvement projects in the state’s second largest city.

American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen also said he wants to find a more collaborative posture among dissenting sides.

“I think it’s kind of ironic for the labor commissioner, who really is supposed to be representing a department to protect working Oklahomans to be doing this,” Allen said. “He ought to be over at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. We know (paycheck protection is) going to come back. What he’s doing is an assault on school reform.”

Allen said his local union affiliate last year donated more money to Republicans to than Democrats, though he blasted Republican officeholders.

“They (Republicans) aren’t all ogres,” he said. “It shouldn’t be all about power. Times have changed. It’s more of a collaborative time now. Trying to bully your way around just isn’t going to work. If you become partners you’re going to get better outcomes.”

New Broken Arrow city manager’s salary set at $153,500 | Tulsa World

BROKEN ARROW — City Manager Thom Moton will earn $153,500 annually under a two-year contract approved Tuesday by the City Council.

That surpasses the $140,000 earned by former City Manager David Wooden but is comparable to the salaries of city managers in Oklahoma’s other largest cities.

“We think we got the most for our dollar,” Mayor Craig Thurmond said. “We looked at what our candidates were making at their current cities and what a candidate should be earning at a city this size.”

Moton, assistant city manager of Greenville, N.C., was appointed to the Broken Arrow position Sept. 18 after a five-month search that attracted 55 applicants.

He will take office Nov. 6, according to his contract.

“I talked to him after the City Council meeting tonight, and he’s excited,” Thurmond said. “We think we made the right choice.”

Officials have said Moton’s expertise includes downtown and economic development — both of which are priorities for the city.

He served as interim city manager of Greenville for five months after its previous city manager retired in March, and his previous positions include assistant city manager of University City, Mo., and Corsicana, Texas.

His salary in Broken Arrow is more than that of Tulsa City Manager Jim Twombly, who makes $140,000 annually, but is in line with those of the city managers of Norman, Edmond and Midwest City, who earn between $145,000 and $155,000.

The state’s highest-paid city manager, Oklahoma City’s Jim Couch, earns more than $200,000.

Broken Arrow, which recently surpassed 100,000 residents, is the state’s fourth-largest city, behind Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman.

Moton’s contract calls for retirement contributions of 12 percent, cell phone and vehicle allowances, and relocation assistance.

The contract also requires a “goal-setting session” between Moton and city leaders within three months of his start date, something that has not been included in contracts for previous city managers, according to a document presented to the City Council.

Moton is entitled to a six-month severance package if he is terminated before the conclusion of the contract. An informal review of his performance will be conducted after nine months, and a formal review will take place after a year.

Wooden was fired in April amid controversy over a proposed Indian casino.

He replaced Twombly, who was fired from his Broken Arrow city manager position in June 2009, when the city cited a need to go in a different direction.

Twombly made $124,384 in that job, the Tulsa World previously reported.

via New Broken Arrow city manager’s salary set at $153,500 | Tulsa World.

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Lawton approves $215K settlement with officer – KTUL.com – Tulsa, Oklahoma – News, Weather & Sports

Posted: Aug 15, 2012 7:52 AM CDT

Updated: Aug 15, 2012 7:52 AM CDT

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) – The city of Lawton has approved a $215,000 settlement with a police officer who argued that he was wrongly terminated from the department.

The Lawton Constitution reports (http://is.gd/llLiKb ) that Lt. Charles Todd Palmer filed a grievance against the city after he was fired in January 2011. The complaint says the police department claimed Palmer had been destructive while searching the property of suspects, among other allegations.

An arbitrator ruled after a grievance hearing that Palmer should be reinstated to the department and receive back pay. The city initially challenged that ruling, but the Lawton City Council approved a settlement Tuesday with Palmer.

The settlement calls for $215,000 in back pay and a lump-sum buyout for Palmer. It also calls for Palmer’s resignation or retirement from the department, effective Aug. 31.

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

via Lawton approves $215K settlement with officer – KTUL.com – Tulsa, Oklahoma – News, Weather & Sports.

On pension reform, Oklahoma can’t rest on laurels | NewsOK.com

NEW rules by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board could have a significant impact on the reporting of state pension obligations, including those in Oklahoma. The rules, which would take effect in 2013, change how states report pension assets and liabilities, likely increasing the latter.

State pensions discount liabilities based on assumed long-term yields on assets, typically assuming an 8 percent yield. That number has exceeded market performance in recent years, potentially disguising the severity of state shortfalls. It’s also lower than the discount rates used in the corporate world.

One of the biggest changes in GASB’s rules would force underfunded plans to use a lower discount rate. Oklahoma would likely be among those affected.

Based on 2010 figures, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System’s funding status would fall from 47.9 percent funded to 41.8 percent under the new rules.

The Boston College researchers also estimate the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System’s funded status would fall from 66 percent to 60 percent.

Experts typically agree pension funds should be able to cover 80 percent of long-term obligations to be considered financially sound.

The accounting changes come hot on the heels of a report by the Pew Center on the States, which ranked Oklahoma’s pension systems the sixth-worst funded in the nation based on 2010 figures.

The Boston College and Pew figures paint a darker picture of Oklahoma’s pension status than may be warranted because they don’t take into account recent reforms. In the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers approved measures that shaved $5.5 billion from Oklahoma’s unfunded liabilities, reducing that total to $10.6 billion.

The combination of a reduced unfunded liability and asset growth improved the integrated ratio of Oklahoma state pensions from 56 percent to 67 percent.

via On pension reform, Oklahoma can’t rest on laurels | NewsOK.com.

Judge dismisses Tulsa official’s civil-rights suit against city | Tulsa World

A civil-rights lawsuit filed by the director of Tulsa’s Human Rights Department against the city was thrown out by a federal judge Friday.

U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan found that Lana Turner-Addison did not adequately show that the alleged deprivation of her constitutional rights occurred as part of an official policy of the city or was the result of actions taken by an official “with final policymaking authority.”

Turner-Addison had filed the lawsuit Sept. 30, claiming that she was wrongly disciplined in response to her filing a civil-service grievance against City Manager Jim Twombly.

She had been assigned by Twombly to assemble and compile the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development five-year consolidated plan, according to the lawsuit.

HUD refused to approve the plans, stating that they were “substantially incomplete and containing numerous errors and inaccuracies.”

The lawsuit claimed that Turner-Addison met with Twombly regarding the shortcomings and alleged that Twombly made it clear that all the blame for the plan would be on her.

Turner-Addison, who is black, claimed in her lawsuit that during the meeting, she felt that she was discriminated against because of her race and gender.

At a February 2011 “pre-action” hearing, Fire Chief Allen LaCroix — the hearing officer — concluded that Turner-Addison should serve five days without pay, as Twombly requested, the suit states.

A few months before that hearing, Turner-Addison had filed a grievance with the Civil Service Commission against Twombly in which she stated that he had created a hostile work environment.

The Civil Service Commission held a hearing in March 2011 and ruled against Turner-Addison, stating that she failed to prove that she was a victim of racial discrimination in a hostile work environment.

On Friday, Eagan found that Turner-Addison, who is also a Tulsa Public Schools board member, did not make “any factual allegations that would support a finding that the city had a custom of violating the rights of its employees.”

The judge also found that the city could not be held liable under relevant civil-rights law because the alleged violation of her constitutional rights was not the result of an action taken by an individual with final policymaking authority.

Eagan pointed out that neither Twombly nor LaCroix could be the final policymaking authority regarding employee discipline because their decisions were reviewable by the Civil Service Commission.

In a separate order filed Friday, Eagan denied Turner-Addison’s attempt to file an amended version of the complaint adding Twombly as a defendant.

The judge found the effort “untimely,” writing that Turner-Addison did not adequately explain why she could not have sought to do so sooner.

via Judge dismisses Tulsa official’s civil-rights suit against city | Tulsa World.

News Item

News Item:

FOP Contract Approved

06/07/2012

BARTLESVILLE, OK — The Bartlesville City Council approved a labor agreement between the City of Bartlesville and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 117 for 2013.

City attorney Jerry Maddux says the new contract has few changes. Before the city council accepted the contract, the FOP met with City officials for the past two months and the organization approved the new contract.

“FOP Contract Approved”.

via News Item.

Mayor says his family threatened » Headlines » The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Moore council considers appeal by union reps

Longtime city of Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said union supporters  threatened his family. The unidentified callers want the Moore City Council to renew the city’s contract with the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees union — the union for nonuniform employees.

Lewis said he received three different phone calls with different voices threatening him and his family.

Union spokesmen said they were appalled and do not support threats or violence.

“I’m totally shocked about what you have told me here today,” said David Johnson, AFSCME representative speaking at the Moore City Council meeting Monday night.

Lewis said he will report the threats to the FBI.

Johnson and other union representatives appealed to the Moore City Council to renew the AFSCME contract when it ends June 30. Johnson and Phillip Maher, a Moore resident and retired UAW member said city administrators are not returning calls from union negotiators, which he believes is a mistake.

“We believe that it’s in the city’s best interest to not renew the AFSCME union contract,” City Manager Steve Eddy said.

Eddy reported that out of 92 employees who are eligible to become union members, only 43 have joined.

“Don’t break us up into compartments,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there are 300 city employees including police and fire, and that 189 of those are union members. On Monday night, Moore council members unanimously approved the renewal of the firefighters union contract.

The dissolution of the union contract is a result of legislative changes in 2011. In 2004, legislation required cities of a certain population size to negotiate with unions. Last year, House Bill 1593 removed that restriction.

So far, five cities in Oklahoma have lost their unions, Johnson said.

Now it appears Moore will be the sixth.

“We’re trained to negotiate. We’re trained to investigate incidents,” Johnson said.

He said employees, as subordinates, aren’t free to advocate for themselves. He said employees and the administration or not on equal grounds, but union negotiators can speak freely to administrators on behalf of employees.

“You have to be equals to talk to each other,” Johnson said. “You have to have a line of communication.”

via Mayor says his family threatened » Headlines » The Norman Transcript.

AA’s ‘Final’ Union Contract Comes With Fewer Tulsa Job Cuts and Conditions | StateImpact Oklahoma

American Airlines’ “final best” contract offer to the Transport Workers Union includes fewer layoffs than the company previously said were necessary.

About 2,100 workers in Tulsa were targeted for layoffs in parent company AMR Corp.’s bankruptcy restructuring plan. The contract offer reduces that number “significantly,” a union rep tells the Tulsa World’s D.R. Stewart.

There are conditions, of course.

The conditions that will affect the number of job cuts in Tulsa include seniority bumping rights of mechanics working at Alliance and other maintenance bases, changes of job classifications in Tulsa and early retirements of mechanics and related work groups, officials said.

via AA’s ‘Final’ Union Contract Comes With Fewer Tulsa Job Cuts and Conditions | StateImpact Oklahoma.