City will pay to investigate ‘union busting’ allegations

The City of Nogales approved a contract that will pay up to $4,000 for an investigation into alleged “union busting” by city officials, including employees in the Public Works Department.

“Let’s find out, let’s get an answer to this,” Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. said at the council’s Dec. 4 meeting.

The allegations were first made at a Sept. 10 council meeting by Linda Hatfield, local president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a union that represents city workers.

“We have been told by numerous union members that they were approached by their supervisors and basically they tried to talk them into dropping the union,” Hatfield explained in a follow-up conversation with the NI. “And the reason it’s a violation is it was done on city time, city property… working time.”

The union-busting allegations came after 37 CWA members at the City of Nogales dropped their membership over the summer, leaving only 34 union members at the city.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, Mayor Arturo Garino and Councilwoman Esther Melendez-Lopez questioned whether the city should pay for the investigation, but the measure passed by a 5-2 vote with only Garino and Melendez voting “no.”

The investigation will be conducted by Teresita Flores, a Tucson lawyer recommended by Hatfield, according to city documents.

New billing policy approved after $313K error

Nogales Fire Department personnel must submit reimbursement forms for wildland firefighting services to the state forestry department within 25 days of completing any wildland firefighting assignment, according to new rules approved by the council on Dec. 11.

The new procedure, passed at a special council meeting on Wednesday, is part of an amendment to the city accounting manual.

It comes in the wake of a $313,092 insurance payment the city received last month after officials noticed that the Finance Department had failed to get state reimbursement for wildland firefighting assignments in 2017 and 2018.

“The fire department and finance are going to work together and make sure that the error that occurred previously will never happen again,” City Attorney Mike Massee said in Dec. 4 comments about the amendment.

After discovery of the error, the city hired a consultant to “review the Finance Department’s procedures and overall performance,” according to city documents.

The city had not responded to a public records request for details of the consultant’s work by the NI’s press deadline on Thursday.

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