Gold Cross Negotiations – St. George, Utah

Donald Trump is needed most in St. George, Utah.  He is the greatest and fairest negotiator in major business today.  That is of course unless you ask John Kerry, who negotiated so well with Iran that each member of congress will be obligated to wash Iran’s dirty laundry daily for the next ten years.

But, enough of my sarcasm about Johnny “why-the long-face” and The Donald.

St. George has been faced with a healthcare crisis for years now.  Our state senator Steve Urquhart decided that it was his prerogative to manipulate the state administrative structure to get his way.  In doing so, he drove one of his constituents out of business, namely Dixie Ambulance.  But, hey, in his own words he has a right to make a living.

I only wish he would have stuck to chasing ambulances, as an attorney, rather than running them off the road, as a state elected official, on loan from his lobbyist employer.  Lobbying by a state officials is nearly unheard of in sophisticated states.  Even the extreme liberal ones like California don’t allow that level of corruption.  One of Sinator Urquhart’s fellow classmates was mystified by his lobbying actions.

Following the successful drive to put Dixie Ambulance out of business, apparently for personal reasons, the senator then threaten St. George officials that if they didn’t kowtow to the demands of his paying lobbyist then the city would be sued.  All the city was asking for was that his client “meet the conditions” they agreed to if the state would just give them the chance to take over emergency service response in St. George.

That took about a year to actually get through a few paragraph agreement. The union has been faced with the same incompetent and/or obstructive delays.

Service delivery has been sketchy by his client.  That is not due to lack of skill by employees, but rather due to the general management of the company.

Now the community is faced with the alarming prospect of a work stoppage, because the legitimate concerns of quality employees are being dismissed. The senator and his client have been being dismissive of St. George all along, on many fronts.  Fortunately for the community of St. George, the unionized employees chose to continue to serve, at their own sacrifice, rather than place St. George or other Utah communities at the risk of inferior response to emergencies.  Their employer would simply shift emergency response personnel from other communities to partially staff St. George, leaving multiple communities at risk.

To the casual observer it appears that the senator and his client know the character of these employees well enough to realize that they themselves can act with questionable character…because they know these quality emergency care responders will place the health and safety of the community first.  I think that manipulative behavior is quite disgusting.

Having been involved with negotiations with public safety personnel, sometimes acrimoniously, I can contemplate some of the issues in the current negotiations.  (Keep in mind I have NO first hand knowledge of those negotiation points.  This is only my supposition, from experience).

Point one

— If negotiations are similar to others a relevant issue is the adequacy of a private retirement or pension programs.  It would not be unusual for the union to be requesting the company to match employee contribution at about a 50% level, up to a minimal percent of the employees annual income.

Given the responsiveness of some (many) companies, such a request would be quite conservative.  Further, the issue of insolvency is always in the discussion of Social Security (which incidentally is becoming an issue nationally, as I write).  It is a reasonable request for supplemental benefits by employees.  It is worth noting that employers are already required to match employee Social Security earnings.  Serious leaders of large companies quickly recognize such benefits are also benefits to themselves.

Again, I am speculating.  But, inquiring minds would like to know if this is just more shenanigans by the senator and his client.

Point two

— Wage security and growth are probably a central factor in the negotiations.  A reasonably anticipated request for annual wage adjustment is between 2-5%.  Mid-point is a fair settling mark.  Both sides to negotiations know that wage adjustment is a flexible factor.  Both should be ready to “move a little” toward the middle.  If either side is unwilling to do so they should not be negotiations.  If the company is intractable on wages…they are not managing, they are dictating.

Point three

— Another matter that frequents negotiations is healthcare benefits.  This is a particularly tough arena since the adoption of “Obamacare.”  However, the healthcare act is too often used as an excuse.  Companies and employees are all over the board on corporate contribution rates to healthcare plans.  There is no “one size fits all.”  However, frequently companies contribute significantly toward premiums assessed to employees.  It is a standard element in the cost of doing business.  If the employees are asking for anything less than their 20% contribution they are not being unreasonable in the marketplace.  The company would do well to simply pass on that negotiation point.

Point four

— During the negotiations there is a phrase “best and final offer.”  What it basically means is that for all intents and purposes one party is making its best and final offer to settle, and is ready to end negotiations by “inking” the deal.  News reports suggest that the parties reached that point a while ago.  In fact some reports imply significant concessions by the union in order to bring the negotiations to fruition.

Of serious note, in negotiations it is not uncommon for resolved issues to be removed from discussion.  Once they are removed from discussion they are not considered open to be brought up again.  This is primarily because to do otherwise, without mutual consent, always leaves the door open for confusion.  I have witnessed where both sides of negotiations have use this tactic, and it has always ended poorly.

Some news reports and social media posts suggest that the company has backtracked to re-examine resolved issues, without that mutual consent.  If that is accurate, again the corporate managers are demonstrating, at best, very poor negotiating skills. It is likely they are demonstrating that they are willing to negotiate in bad faith…leading to a long-term mistrust among the parties.

Senator Urquhart’s client has been accused of negotiating in bad faith.  It appears that they are doing just that.  The senator, a licensed member of the bar, at last review, should know better and advise his client better.  There are consequences to negotiating in bad faith.

Presumably, the National Labor Relations Board has been contacted.  They do not take these matters lightly.  If they hold hearings, facts will come out.  Perhaps this scene from Absence of Malice may be applicable.

Wilfred BrimleyAbsence of Malice (opens in a separate window, be sure to come back and finish reading).

Involvement of the NLRB will be a step toward resolving matters.  But that is not the final rational solution.

The City of St. George has flirted with the idea of having their own first responder division of public safety.  The time has arrived for this to be given full, legitimate, and serious consideration.  Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t.  But it should be considered.

Our state senator has made a mess of public health safety in St. George with his conduct.  He exercises far too much undue influence for personal gain, and needs to be summarily removed from the picture.  An independent review of the history, strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities for a municipally operated emergency response division is justified.

Lastly, lest I should leave a subject near and dear to my heart unaddressed I offer one sidelight issue.

Utah has been embarrassed by state elected officials for far too long.  This whole mess with the senator and his client is just another example.  It is time for an independent ethics review board to be established within the state.  They need authority to look at the facts of situations, like the Urquhart/paid lobbyist connection, without hindrance from the self-interested elected officials.  The legislature is its own final review of its individual member conduct.  That is like letting Hillary Clinton review her own use of private email for official state business, and expecting an unbiased outcome.  It just makes no sense.

That is the Way I see it.

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