HAMMOND — A local union rep is butting heads with management after the city sanitary district board recently voted to terminate a collective bargaining agreement, effectively no longer recognizing International Union of Operators Engineers Local 399 as its workers' union.
Lloyd Osbourne said the May 25 vote came to him as a shock, and after many months of stall tactics from the Hammond Sanitary District management amid ongoing contract negotiations.
“There was no discussion ahead of time,” Lloyd Osbourne, business representative with the International Union of Operators Engineers Local 399, said.
Mayor Thomas McDermott argued to The Times the union contract was formally terminated due to bad faith negotiations by Osbourne beginning in 2017.
"Lloyd and (Sanitary District Manager Marty Wielgos) shook hands on a contract, but when it was presented to the union body, it was resoundingly shot down. That's negotiating in bad faith," McDermott said.
He said city departments negotiate well all the time with other unions, but this is the only one the city has had trouble with.
The same thing happened again early this year, he said, when sanitary management thought they had a contract deal. But the union body shot it down May 28, though this time by a slimmer margin.
Osbourne criticized the district for shoddy communication and their unwillingness to meet in person to work out differences.
He said he sent an email to district attorney Joseph Allegretti on July 1, asking what the board's recent vote means for workers' rights, and never received a reply.
“Without a contract, are we at-will workers? From conversations I’ve had with employees, they are confused, they are scared, and they don’t know what it means for their jobs,” he said.
Allegretti told The Times absent a contract, the workers now fall under the city employment rules and regulations by default. Salaries are not effected as they were set by ordinance in January.
Osbourne said sanitary workers had been working under terms laid out by a previously existing contract that expired Dec. 31, 2016 while the HSD management team negotiated with the union on updated terms, he said.
He has a very different take over how negotiations fell apart and the board's recent vote.
“This was a way to stall us and just make a mockery of the negotiation process,” Osbourne said.
'Not closing the door'
Joseph Allegretti, city attorney for HSD, told The Times Friday the vote was not an attempt at union-busting as claimed, but instead a formality to terminate an already expired contract.
If the union wants to etch out a new contract and negotiate, they are open to that, he said.
“Lloyd suggests we’re not bargaining in good faith, but he thinks that means bargaining until ‘I get what I want,’” Allegretti said. “No one is being discharged. Nobody is losing their job. And this is not closing the door for further discussions. The resolution speaks for itself.”
Allegretti told The Times the sanitary district will continue deducting union dues from payroll for each union employee unless directed otherwise.
McDermott said the city and the sanitary district have no part in deciding if workers want to pay union membership dues. But the sanitary district is not recognizing those workers as unionized anymore.
Joe McCarthy, a former city councilman and HSD employee of 28 years, said Osbourne had been negotiating with management on pay raises, paid time off, shift hours and other contract terms.
McCarthy said management has had a “take-or-leave-it” attitude and has refused to sit down face-to-face for months, he said.
McDermott said Local 399 union members received a 2% raise in 2017, as did all city workers, even though they weren't entitled under the expired contract.
City workers continued to be given raises in subsequent years, and the same was not extended to sanitary district employees.
"Now they want those raises given to them retroactively," McDermott said. "It's not going to happen."
McCarthy argued management took away the 2% raise and is now holding those raises “over our heads during negotiations."
Sanitary District board president Sam Dimopoulos and manager Marty Wieglos did not respond to requests for comment.