MSD workers wait outside yesterday's MSD board meeting

MSD workers wait outside yesterday’s MSD board meeting

Following Monday’s Metropolitan Sewer District board meeting in which MSD workers threatened to strike as soon as next week if their contract demands are not met, MSD’s spokesman told Insider Louisville the agency is prepared to find new workers if such a strike takes place.

“MSD would be prepared to handle the work through contractors or management personnel should there be a strike,” wrote MSD spokesman Steve Tedder in an email.

Tedder added that MSD management is currently reviewing the new contract proposal of MSD workers — members of the LIUNA Local 576 union — but say their employees do not have a legal right to strike.

“There is a state statute related to public employees not being able to strike, but it applies to police officers, firefighters, firefighter personnel, and corrections officers only,” wrote Tedder. “The law that prohibits public employees from going on strike is common law.  The specific authority is (a 1970 Court of Appeals case involving the Jefferson County Teachers Association).”

David Suetholz, an attorney for the LIUNA local, maintains that these workers are not prohibited from striking because they work for a public corporation that is separate from Metro Government, and that Tedder is off base.

“Denying an employer the benefit and fruit of one’s labor is a fundamental human right enshrined in the 13th amendment prohibiting slavery,” wrote Suetholz in an email to Insider Louisville.  “Infringements on this right have always come with tradeoffs — the right to collectively bargain and the requirement for employers to bargain in good faith (something MSD management has failed to do).”

As for whether MSD can effectively replace the roughly 160 unionized MSD workers — who work on sewers, pipes, flooding and drainage ditches — with contract labor, Suetholz says that is unlikely.

“The expertise that the current (Central Maintenance Facility) workforce has is irreplaceable,” said Suetholz. “It is highly unlikely MSD could continue operations with their office personnel or through contractors. We should not even be talking about a strike, the Board should take responsibility and deal fairly with the MSD employees.”

MSD Executive Director Greg Heitzman told The Courier-Journal’s James Bruggers after Monday’s meeting that management could move to withdraw its recognition of LIUNA as the workers’ union, which LIUNA officials maintain he already has threatened to do. Heitzman told Bruggers he has not made such a threat, but “We have to begin to ask ourselves, if we cannot get an agreement, what would be the next step?”

In a blistering letter sent to the MSD board last Friday (attached below), Lawrence Winburn Sr. of LIUNA Local 576  blamed Heitzman for “shooting down” a tentative deal in August on major points of a contract compromise, including the union’s concession to not demand binding arbitration and instead give Metro Council the ability to override a mediator’s decision with a three-fourths vote. He noted that the language was crafted not just by union representatives, but by MSD’s human resources director, Lynne Fleming, and outside counsel John Sheller, and that Mayor Greg Fischer’s chief of staff Ellen Hesen and city labor mediator Bill Meeks also were active in the negotiation of the compromise contract.

MSD director Greg Heitzman and soon-to-be-former board chair James Craig

MSD director Greg Heitzman and soon-to-be-former board chair James Craig

Winburn’s letter also referred to the six-figure salaries of MSD management, including the possibility of over $50,000 in bonuses to Heitzman’s $252,000 salary. As Bruggers reported Monday, the MSD board chose to delay an expected $32,760 bonus payment to Heitzman and raises for other MSD management, per the request of an unnamed board member.

At the end of the meeting, board chairman James Craig — who has been forced to recuse himself from contract negotiations since August due to other members believing he was “contaminated” by speaking with union members — announced he is resigning from the board next week. He told Bruggers his decision was not related to the contract dispute, even though he publicly aired his strong difference of opinion with the rest of MSD management to Insider Louisville three weeks ago.

Once again Insider Louisville has asked mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter if Fischer is concerned by the possibility of a strike by MSD workers and how this would affect the city, in addition to whether the mayor asked Craig to resign and if he has been in contact with MSD management on the new contract proposal. On Monday, Poynter said these questions are for MSD, and he has not yet replied today.

LIUNA letter to MSD