A newly-ratified agreement between the Town of Vernon and a town bargaining unit has ended the automatic deduction of union dues from employee paychecks in response to the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision.
The agreement between the Town of Vernon and the renamed Directors Independent Unit was approved by the Vernon town council on July 3 during a special meeting. The changes are limited to the eight-member unit, which consists of town department heads.
The change in union dues collection – and some other contract provisions — prompted AFSCME Council 4 to end its affiliation with the municipal employee union.
The new contract was negotiated over the course of two meetings between Vernon officials and Vernon’s Parks & Recreation Director Martin Sitler, President of the Directors Independent Unit.
“They offered us fair wages, fair working conditions,” Sitler said in an interview. “It was a very pleasant meeting and we resolved every single issue. I wouldn’t even call it a negotiation, it was just rational people sitting down to discuss issues.”
AFSCME Council 4, however, was not pleased with the contract which eliminated certain provisions Council 4 felt were important, including dues deductions, union release time and super-seniority.
A June 11 email from AFSCME Council 4 Director of Collective Bargaining and Organizing Kevin Murphy informed Sitler that Council 4 would no longer represent the bargaining unit if they continued to pursue the contract.
“There were several changes that had to be made in the proposed document and based on your email they haven’t occurred, the dues of which was only one of them and not necessarily the number one issue as you present it,” Murphy wrote. “Council 4 has pursued language, that provides for union release time, super seniority, layoff protection to name a few, without them being included we will not represent you. I will forward a formal letter to you and the Town stating that Council 4 AFSCME no longer represents this group of employees.”
Sitler – an AFSCME member and former officer for over 30 years — says AFSCME’s contract was too long and complicated and that provisions like super-seniority were not applicable to his members because they were all department heads and couldn’t bump each other in the event of layoffs.
Sitler says his bargaining unit offered to pre-pay several months of dues to AFSCME and then pay a dues invoice moving forward in exchange for AFSCME’s support of the contract, but Council 4 refused.
He also said that AFSMCE Council 4 representatives arrived at their union meeting and were “pushing their own agenda.”
“That really irritated everyone in our union,” Stitler said.
On June 28, Murphy informed Sitler by email that Council 4 would no longer be the bargaining agent or representative for the town bargaining unit.
Administrator for the Town of Vernon, Michael Purcaro, says ending automatic union dues deductions protects the town, taxpayers and employees from any legal issues in the wake of the Janus v. AFSCME decision.
Part of the dispute between AFSCME Council 4, town employees and the Town of Vernon arose when AFSCME insisted the town could not cease collecting dues from employees who resigned union membership until AFSCME allowed it.
Purcaro said the town believed AFSCME’s interpretation of the union’s rights following the Janus decision “would put us in the middle of a potential legal problem.”
AFSCME and other public sector unions attempted to make union permission to cease dues deductions a matter of state law during the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 6935 would have forced municipalities and the state to rely on the union to inform them of who resigned membership and who could cease having dues deducted.
The bill passed in the House of Representatives but was never taken up in the Senate.
Purcaro said the town was looking out for the rights of its employees in making the change. “If an individual wants to stop paying dues, we are going to stop taking them out,” Purcaro said. “The town employees obviously felt the same way.”
The 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME ruled that public-sector workers could not be compelled to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment because it violates freedom of speech rights.
Sitler indicated that he was unconcerned with AFSCME ending its relationship with his bargaining unit and looks forward to working with his members on how to move forward as an independent union.
“We’re happy, and we’re very happy the town council endorsed the contract,” Sitler said.