It started as time off to attend a charity golf tournament it ended up as a grievance filed against the city over flex time and 10 months later it is an issue that remains unresolved after the Thief River Falls City Council last night abruptly removed a Memorandum of Understanding from its agenda.
More than 14 hours invested in lawyer attended meditation and negotiation – apparently with more to talk about – and Alderman at Large, Ken Schmalz – who sat in for Mayor Steve Nordhagen last night – admited it’s not “cheap ..” saying his problem with grievances is that sometimes the issue is not worth the time, money and heartache that goes into resolving it.
So what is the issue? This is what we know. In July of last year, Steve Olson, the Manager of the City Liquor Store, attended a golf tournament fund-raiser for the Thief River Falls Education Foundation, where he also serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors. For taking the time the city docked his vacation hours – which Olson – who had already made up the hours working on the weekend – objected to, saying flex time was allowed under the terms of his contract.
Olson is a member of the MAPS Employee Bargaining Group, which filed a grievance on his behalf based on contract language and past practice. To avoid arbitration, the two sides reached an agreement that would reinstate to Olson; 2 and a half hours vacation time and expunge a letter from the city, threatening legal action, from his personnel file. In return, Olson would agree to notify City Administrator Jodie Torkelson when he intends to take flex time.
The entire arrangement fell apart however, after the City Ad Hoc Labor Committee also included on last night’s agenda a second resolution, not agreed to by the Union Group, which MAPS said was intentionally written to undermine the Olson Memorandum. Mitchell Brunfelt, attorney for MAPS, contacted Brandon Fitzsimmons, attorney for the city, to say the union would proceed with a District Court action if the city didn’t reject what Brunfelt called, “a bad faith tactic.” Fitzsimmons advised the city to remove both items from the agenda – which they did.
For their part, Schmalz said the city’s intention was to clarify how flex time could be used, as a non-negotiable “Work Schedule Policy” with the expectation that employees like Olson – who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standard Act – work more than 40 hours a week, maintain an 8 to 5 weekday schedule, with limitations on flex time and detailed time cards.
Now, it is not clear how either group will proceed from here, but one thing is certain – the cost of resolving the grievance, for the union and for the city, appears to be going up.