A Metro Insider’s Thoughts On Fischer Leadership

Here’s the latest from one of our Metro Government folks:

There are difficult issues in Metro government that need strong leadership to even be discussed. These issues are hampering Metro government from realizing greater gains from the taxes we all pay, from providing its own employees with a sense of fairness and constancy in the application of policies and rules, and from being perceived as a first-class metropolitan organization.

Fischer has been in office 3/1/2 years and is running for another term in the Fall. The following was culled from conversations and meetings with current Metro employees and explores how they feel about his leadership thus far. The employees participated on the condition that they remain anonymous. The remarks are all from current employees. It’s important to note that this is a review of Fischer’s leadership of Metro government, not a review of his work as a community leader – that’s another day’s topic.

First up is unions. Short and sweet? Employees are fed up with being asked to put up with unreasonable union contracts and to sacrifice more of their own good in order for union employees – their fellow employees – to be kept well-fed and quiet. Examples given are as follows:

  1. Teamster Local 783 employees pay $0, that’s right – $0 – premiums for their own health insurance. They pay a greatly reduced amount for their family members. What is that? The Metro community at large is subsidizing their fellow-employees’ benefits. The situation creates a stratified community in which there is no equality and no sense of fairness. The contractual clause in the union contract which allows this is arcane and should be removed. Barring that, no one should pay for their own health insurance and that, we all agree, ain’t gonna happen.

    The issue has greater ramifications – it is difficult to sell the notion of additional taxation on the Louisville community when Fischer doesn’t address a simple, equality-creating, revenue-enhancing change such as this – in his own backyard.

  2. Teamster Local 783 employees are PAID for their lunch break. No non-union employee in Metro receives this benefit. No non-union employee in Metro (or anywhere else on the planet) expects to receive this benefit, and yet Teamsters do. In the face of revenue shortages, of Fischer calling for a new tax, this cost is obscene. How much money would that add to Fischer’s discretionary funds? Millions. Millions, if not immediately, then over time.

Union contracts are re-negotiated periodically – the one referenced above will likely enter negotiation soon since it expires next year, in 2015. Which leads to the third issue with public sector unions in Metro – contract negotiation. To date, union contracts are negotiated by one or two “labor relations” specialists at Metro, assisted by each department’s director. The problem, we are told, is that management doesn’t want to appear to be progressive in their thinking about union contracts because this will lead to an inundation of grievances, of work slow-downs, and of specific targeting of management employees for HR complaints. Any manager who goes to the union negotiation with such notions is torpedoing their own career.

The solution? Leadership from the highest level – from Fischer. Thus far, there hasn’t been any on this critical topic. The public idea that democrats support unions and in return receive union votes is old-school, surely, and if Fischer wants to lead, this is an area crying out for a visionary.

Second up? Elitism. This claim is put forth by those in the middle of Metro’s employee hierarchy. In short, they feel that union members receive benefits from union membership not available to other employees, that Fischer’s managers and directors receive benefits from being highly placed in the administration, and that only they are expected to toe the line, whatever the line happens to be. When asked for examples, the one complained about the loudest was upper management not having to work an 8-hour day but still receiving pay for an 8-hour day.

The Metro “rule” is that if you are a “mayoral appointment” then you only have to be in the office for an hour in order to receive credit for the entire day. I am not making this up. So if you need to pick up your kids from daycare early, or if you want to blow off the afternoon and go shopping or go to Oaks on a sunny Friday in May, well, no problem! Go to the office for an hour, and on your time sheet (electronic or otherwise) put down 40. Voila! The rationale for this is that those in such jobs could be fired or let go on a moment’s notice, and so such a perk was a small thing.

But now, Fischer is requiring everyone to re-apply for their jobs – he’s done so in Public Works, and most recently, he did it in APCD. So the idea that those positions are protected by civil service considerations is moot. Those people are just as vulnerable as the mayor’s appointees – no progressive discipline is necessary to get rid of anyone not in the union. So why do some continue to get the perk and not others? If a Mayor’s Chief can take off with the excuse that, “I have my phone with me,” then why not a manager in Public Works? Why not the communications specialist in APCD? To pretend that the policy is not just obsolescent but actually obsolete by 21st century standards is ludicrous, and yet Fischer, to date, has done nothing.

The perk creates an elitist environment in other ways. For those in the Mayor’s circle who receive it, it ensures that they are never the ones being looked at for sick abuse – if you only have to be there an hour in order to get paid for eight, well, most of us will manage that. Or will work from home (the second highest ranking complaint) in order to claim the time. In the long term, Metro participates in the state retirement system, and when you reach the point of retirement, each day of sick leave not used counts towards time in the system. And if only some receive the perk, then only some reap the long term benefit.

Nobody cares if Fischer has personal wealth or runs with those who do. But they care mightily when he applies elitist attitudes to his management of Metro government. A leader would step out beyond his or her personal situation and govern for the good of all, not just the good of the few. Fischer’s grade in leadership thus far? He’d be fine if he were taking the class on a Pass/Fail basis. Otherwise, he needs to work harder on the harder issues – it’s called leadership.

11 thoughts on “A Metro Insider’s Thoughts On Fischer Leadership

  1. Isn’t the very function of a labor organization to negotiate benefits for its membership? If one wants to criticize the situation as one of poor negotiation on the city’s part that’s just fine, but I think it’s unfair to vilify a class of workers benefiting from a collective bargaining agreement, many of whom had little to do with negotiating its terms.

  2. Mayor showed his true colors in a radio interview he asked for on 84WHAS. Terry Meiners did a great job showing the Mayor and his staff are in over their heads…Jake and this site, and more specifically, these posts, shows if the Mayor was a true business man; his business would fail. No way you can run Metro like he’s doing. Shame on us for not asking the right questions and getting other options for a Mayor. McCheese all over again for how many years?

  3. Bravo to Mike Brooks as a democrat to be willing to step up and at least mention or discuss the issue. And i agree that it’s the city’s problem not the individual workers.

    Mike, you’re running for a council seat in the 9th district, right? What would your position be on union negotiations with Metro be? How would you tackle the issue of those negotiations to make sure that they are fair help the city by not giving away the keys to the kingdom?

  4. Not all Local 783 contracts have such benefits. I know that several agencies do not have a paid lunch and at least in 2012 all metro employees had a “free” single health insurance plan available. It was not the best plan, but it was free. Public Works is probably the only agency without progressive discipline, I know other agencies have no problem using it. I cannot speak to what happens at all agencies, but I know the police, fire and EMS contracts went for long periods (+ 1 year) without settlement and a lot was lost in the last ones. I am in no way defending Fischer, he is a milktoast. If daddy or Jerry do know tell him what to do, he is lost. Look at all the scandals with his choices of (or keeping) department heads. The public does not know the half of it…

  5. Fischer promised the unions professional Labor Relations when he ran for office. Instead he has kept Odell Henderson as his chief Labor Negotiator, a holdover from Jerry who was a failure at Public Works so they gave him this patronage job.

    Public employees want to be a part of the success of this community, to be empowered to contribute and to achieve labor relations like the private sector has. Ford and the UAW are an example, modern management techniques that involve the workers and alow them to contribute.

    Fisher is all Corporate buzz words, he has no understanding or relationship with his employees. Every agency audit has the same finding – employees live in fear of retribution and are not allowed to contribute.

    It costs the city tens of millions a year on a 300 million dollar payroll. Rather than fight the unions, why not embrace the values of fair treatment and forge a relationship that is productive.

  6. Thanks Yabba, and yes, I am that Mike Brooks.

    That’s a fair question, but a tough one, as I’m not sure there’s an honest answer I can give you that won’t seem like a cop-out. Not knowing the specific terms or leverage points in individual agreements, I don’t want to toss out generalizations, and these negotiations aren’t really the purview of the council. I will say that I am steadfastly pro-union, but also have direct experience with the costs and difficulties employers can perceive in working with organized labor.

    I think the folks who do the hard and often dirty work that keeps our city running day to day should be paid a good and fair wage, should work in safe, reasonable conditions, and should have a degree of job security. Those promises on the employer’s part, though, should secure certain like promises from the organization by way of performance and accountability. If the agreement is truly out of balance, then I think it’s absolutely fair to request concessions or improvements. I do not think that anonymous sniping via the internet is any way to demonstrate seriousness of purpose in working toward a mutually beneficial contract. For those of us who don’t work in the departments in question, we’re all standing around talking about something we don’t know anything about, but maybe it’s good to rake a little muck from time to time.

    I don’t envy the city’s negotiating team their task, which forces them to pit the moral, social and economic good that organized labor offers our community against their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers, and I won’t pretend to have a magic bullet. I would suggest, however, that the solution may lie in LESS involvement on the part of elected officials such as the mayor, rather than more. If the reality or even perception is that electeds/appointeds are too closely tied to unions (or, conversely, private outsourcing interests!) to negotiate effectively, it may be that fully non-partisan, career labor staff should conduct the talks in a clean room without the involvement of vote-seekers or direct supervisors. Pre-emptive arbitration, if you will.

    Long story short, Yabba, absent the specifics, I can’t give you an answer that is at once interesting and honest, so I’ve opted here for honest, boring and a little speculative.

    Government so hard. Ish is crazy.

  7. Rebecca Jackson hired Labor professionals who functioned independently. When she had a managment problem they told her and she corrected the manager.

    Fishers people will let the city burn before they will correct a department heads behavior.

  8. Elect this man!!!

    The one thing I disagree with you about is hte “anonymous sniiping bit”. I think to ignore internet news sources, be they legitimate blogs or old-school newspapers, is ignoring the realities of news today. Just because it feels different than traditional outlets shouldn’t negate its ability to transfer knowledge of events and policies. And just because it is laden with personal opinion does not mean an opportunity for discussion hasn’t been opened where one didn’t exist before.

    This isparticularly true at the local level i think. If Fischer doesn’t respond to columns like Jake’s, then all the twitter and facebook blah blah is just window dressing for a 20th century outlet masqueradingas a 21st century operation.

  9. The “hour a day” managers have existed for as long as I’ve been involved with city government – at least 25 years. They are supposed to be the folks that are exempt – meaning they don’t make OT/comp time – that’s consistent with Wage and Hour law. But the problem with that is these same folks are out the door in a heartbeat and would cry a river if asked to work during an emergency after 5 p.m. or on a weekend – I’ve heard them. And a good manager (which Fischer is not) would know what his people are delivering, which best I can tell, is pretty much nothing.

  10. The biggest ‘single’ mistake George’s son has made in his first term as Mayor is to have retained so many of Happy Pants’ former (and useless) managers and advisors — because he didn’t know what he was doing and had no experience in local government. He had a huge chance to ‘clean house’ — but he didn’t. He didn’t even get rid of Larry Zielke at MSD, which didn’t happen until Critt Luallen eviscerated him with her audit of MSD. He’s bungled it. There are retired executives and older citizens all over town who have governmental experience and could help — but he never involved a single one of them. Tragic. He seems to want to be the ‘smartest guy in the room’ and doesn’t want anyone but ‘yesmen/women.’ A recipe for failure – in most any endeavor.

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