PARTY CHAIR FACES UNION UP­RIS­ING

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY AL­LI­SON KITE [email protected]­star.com

Jack­son County’s pros­e­cu­tor, Mis­souri’s new Demo­cratic leader, is ac­cused by union lead­ers of union-bust­ing tac­tics.

Just over a month into her ten­ure as chair of the Mis­souri Democrats, Jack­son County Pros­e­cu­tor Jean Peters Baker is fac­ing a re­volt from some of the party’s big­gest sup­port­ers: la­bor unions.

Baker, elected to the party post in De­cem­ber, has been in con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with the In­ter­na­tional Aso­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers Lo­cal 42, which rep­re­sents the as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors who re­port to her.

But those ne­go­ti­a­tions have reached an im­passe. The as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors have been with­out a con­tract since Nov. 15. IAFF Lo­cal 42 pres­i­dent Tim Dupin said the union had lost mem­bers in the process.

“We be­lieve that ... the county is hold­ing out on these ne­go­ti­a­tions to bust the union,” Dupin said.

On Tues­day, the dis­pute es­ca­lated. Mem­ber unions in the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO pledged that they won’t sup­port the state or county Demo­cratic par­ties un­til Baker ei­ther steps down as chair or “agrees to re­turn to the ta­ble and ne­go­ti­ate in good faith and reaches a fi­nal agree­ment with IAFF.”

About 13.6 per­cent of the state party’s do­na­tion pro­ceeds last year came from unions, and county par­ties re­ceive sig­nif­i­cant do­na­tions.

Baker said in an in­ter­view Fri­day that her re­turn would be a short trip.

“I never left the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble,” she said. “I’m still sit­ting there.”

In a let­ter to Baker, Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO pres­i­dent Duke Du­jakovich said mem­ber unions voted unan­i­mously to stop giv­ing to the party. The let­ter points to the la­bor-friendly poli­cies en­dorsed in state and na­tional party plat­forms and ques­tions whether Baker up­holds those ideals.

“We are gravely con­cerned that a per­son whose con­duct clearly demon­strates dis­dain for the above-stated prin­ci­ples and com­mit­ments is the cur­rent leader of Mis­souri’s Demo­cratic Party,” Du­jakovich wrote.

Dupin said unions would con­trib­ute to la­bor-friendly can­di­dates but not the party com­mit­tees.

The im­passe in­volves two ma­jor stick­ing points: a pro­posed raise for as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors and a process for set­tling dis­putes through ar­bi­tra­tion.

IAFF Lo­cal 42, Dupin said, has pro­posed rais­ing start­ing prose­cut­ing at­tor­neys’ pay to more than $61,000.

“Right now, a start­ing prose­cut­ing at­tor­ney makes $50,000, which is pretty sad,” Dupin said, not­ing that crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­neys earn much larger salaries.

The union also wants an an­nual cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment tied to in­fla­tion and capped at 3 per­cent.

Baker, who was ap­pointed pros­e­cu­tor in 2011 and won elec­tion in 2012 and again in 2016, said she has raised as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors’ pay sig­nif­i­cantly. This time, she said, the county hasn’t agreed on a bud­get, so the raise pool has yet to be de­ter­mined.

“I’m not op­posed to rais­ing the as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors’ bot­tom line at all,” Baker said. “I worked as an as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor for far more years than I’ve worked as the elected pros­e­cu­tor.”

But she “can’t cre­ate a bud­get that is not there.”

Dupin ar­gued that she should ad­vo­cate di­rectly to the Jack­son County Leg­is­la­ture.

“If the leg­is­la­ture was aware of what the pro­posed raises were, or re­quested were, they could make an in­formed de­ci­sion in their bud­get process,” he said.

Lo­cal 42 and the pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fice are also dead­locked over how to han­dle dis­putes that go to ar­bi­tra­tion. The ex­pired con­tract pro­vided for re­tired judges to ar­bi­trate. But Dupin said he doesn’t think for­mer county em­ploy­ees can be im­par­tial.

The union pro­posed that if it can’t agree with the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice on a re­tired judge that the par­ties turn to the Fed­eral Me­di­a­tion and Con­cil­i­a­tion Ser­vice.

Baker said her of­fice and the union had used the ser­vice in past con­tracts but that it was far too costly. She said ar­bi­tra­tors in that sys­tem also didn’t un­der­stand the spe­cial ju­di­cial ethics de­manded of pros­e­cu­tors.

“It’s news to me that (Lo­cal) 42 finds it so of­fen­sive be­cause 42 ne­go­ti­ated for this the last time,” Baker said.

The AFL-CIO let­ter also raised alarms about Baker’s de­ci­sion to fire three as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors sev­eral years ago. Ac­cord­ing to the let­ter, no other union mem­bers had been ter­mi­nated for cause.

Baker said two of them lied to the court and were fired af­ter due process. A third had en­tered a work im­prove­ment plan un­der a pre­vi­ous pros­e­cu­tor be­cause of per­for­mance is­sues. She said her of­fice ex­tended the plan, but it didn’t work out.

Dupin and Baker each claim it was the other who left the ta­ble. Dupin said Lo­cal 42 has been able to ne­go­ti­ate with past pros­e­cu­tors. Baker said she’s been able to ne­go­ti­ate with pre­vi­ous Lo­cal 42 pres­i­dents.

“There’s noth­ing to talk about if they’re not go­ing to give us any new pro­pos­als,” Dupin said. “We’re well aware of what the pro­pos­als are.”

The union wants to take the ne­go­ti­a­tions to a me­di­a­tor, but Baker doesn’t.

“He just needs to come back to the ta­ble that he left,” Baker said. “Come sit back down.”

In the mean­time, Dupin said he’s hop­ing the unions’ de­ci­sion to with­hold po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions puts pres­sure on Baker.

The res­o­lu­tion passed unan­i­mously, but Du­jakovich said it’s not bind­ing.

“There is no en­force­ment,” he said. “I can­not yank some­body’s union char­ter if they break it . ... All the unions have au­ton­omy.”

He added: “It was a tough vote be­cause every­body in that room knows and works with Jean Peters Baker, and she’s worked hard in the past on a lot of im­por­tant is­sues and can­di­dates we’ve all agreed on.”

Baker said she would be wor­ried about what it means for her party lead­er­ship for the unions to with­hold money if she thought Dupin’s al­le­ga­tions were true.

“I think what they are hop­ing for is to squeeze ev­ery bit of po­lit­i­cal pres­sure they can out of me to do things that I should not, and that mis­un­der­stands who I am,” Baker said.

Du­jakovich said the im­passe was a bad sit­u­a­tion to be in any time, but es­pe­cially lead­ing into the 2020 elec­tion.

“But we’ve got to do what we can for work­ing peo­ple.”

RICH SUGG [email protected]­star.com

On Dec. 1, Mis­souri Democrats elected Jack­son County Pros­e­cu­tor Jean Peters Baker to lead their party.

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