Mayor Fenty Screws Working Men AND Women in DC  

I open my mail this morning to find out that DCLabor finally pulled out of the working groups that had been set up to iron out labor and city issues. Mayor Fenty and his people have been, well (how do I put this?), less than forthcoming

LABOR UPDATES: Labor Pulls Out of DC Labor-Management Program: Labor told the DC City Council Friday it was pulling out of DC Labor-Management Partnership Programs. Stymied by the administration's unilateral decision-making, lack of information-sharing and continued refusal to meet with labor representatives for over a year, frustrated labor leaders testified Friday that they were pulling out of the previously successful partnerships. "You cannot have a partnership without a partner," Metro Council President and Labor-Management Programs Co-chair Jos Williams told DC City Council members at the hearing. Labor leaders - hoping to re-invigorate the program - had voiced their concerns about the program at a Council hearing in February but reported Friday that no progress had been made (Labor-Management Partnerships Stalled 2/14/08 UC). "The work of the DC Partnership has been acclaimed at all levels of government and labor," and has received national recognition said AFSCME Council 20's Al Bilik (right of Williams in photo). "It is a shame, a crime to see top officials renege on their commitment." AFGE Council 211 President Eric Bunn (pictured far right) also questioned the City's commitment to continue funding the program - which over its ten years has resulted in 54 department partnerships in 27 different agencies - pointing out that agencies were being given the opportunity to opt out of funding the program in the 2009 budget. "Clearly the city had demonstrated they don't want to partner," Bunn said.

In fact, the Fenty administration has been angry and dismissive toward DC Labor for a rather long time, City Paper covered the story last year.

In the audience was a group of local labor leaders, including several big shots from unions representing D.C. government employees. After Fenty finished his speech, Dwight R. Bowman, who heads up the local district of the American Federation of Government Employees, walked up to Fenty to shake his hand and exchange pleasantries.

“Unfortunately, the conversation never got to that,” Bowman says.

It’s probably wrong to call it a conversation. Says one eyewitness, “In the blink of an eye, Adrian went ballistic.…He got red; he got aggressive; he got right in Dwight’s face.” The witness called the outburst “scary.”

What set Hizzoner off? Well, the union guys apparently hit one of his soft spots: Bowman apparently implied a little too strongly that Fenty was snubbing Big Labor.

Bowman had wanted to express his union’s support for a proposal the mayor had floated to bring the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority back under city control. But before he got into that, Bowman thought he needed to acknowledge that mayoral relations had been rocky.

Wrong move: Fenty demanded an example of said rockiness. “You don’t think everything is all right?” he asked Bowman, before pressing him for examples.

Bowman mentioned a number of things to Fenty: During the campaign, Bowman says Fenty was invited to a candidate forum that the AFGE had sponsored. The union folks got no advance notice that the candidate was coming. When he did come, he was late. And then he left early, choosing to schmooze outside the debate rather than take questions from the podium. Bowman also mentioned that Fenty had no-showed on an invitation to address the AFGE’s annual legislative conference.

But the touchiest issue several witnesses say was when Bowman brought up the subject of a meeting and how difficult it had been to schedule one.

“Gimme an example of where I haven’t been able to meet with you,” Fenty reportedly demanded.

“I don’t understand why he stepped up close to me and why he was so agitated,” Bowman says. “I’m a pretty straightforward guy. When he asked me a question, I gave him an answer.”

Rumors of Fenty’s short temper with his own employees are well-circulated; it’s just another part of the mythology of a hard-driving, constituents-first boss who demands the utmost from his staffers. In public, however, the Fenty style has always been to exude cool competence.

Another cornerstone of the Fenty image: His willingness to show up at any gathering or meet any group that he can make time for. The idea that Fenty would stand up a group of any size doesn’t jibe with that.

Fenty declined to get into the details of the encounter, but he did not deny that the exchange had been heated. “[Bowman] and I agree we’re going to have a meeting,” he says. That meeting, however, has not been scheduled.

There’s no shortage of reasons for there to be tension between Fenty and the labor community. During the mayoral election campaign, most unions representing government employees—including AFGE—supported former D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp. After taking office, Fenty appointed to the school board Ted Trabue, head of the D.C. Economic Empowerment Coalition and the Empower D.C. political action committee—groups with ties to anti-union construction concerns. Since then, there have been occasional flare-ups—for instance, when Fenty’s general counsel, Peter Nickles, referred to the city’s Department of Disability Services as a “dumping ground” for castoffs from other government agencies in a May Legal Times article.

Plus, to date, Fenty hasn’t shown a lot of regard for the sanctity of public employment. Late last week, Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee finalized their plan to “right-size” the long-demonized D.C. Public School central-office bureaucracy. The pink slips will be going to nonunion employees, but labor types don’t see the plan boding well for the upcoming contract negotiations with the Washington Teachers’ Union.

Fenty isn't the kind of mayor I expected. He isn't anything like the guy who stood in my living room to meet my neighbors and discuss issues important to Ward 8. I certainly wouldn't have supported any candidate that's shown himself to be so anti-worker as this mayor has. I suppose I can chalk this one up to experience and hope that when he's up for re-election, we can find a suitable replacement. Right now, I have no hope that he'll ever understand or do what's necessary to work with labor. And that, is a very sad place to be.


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