Former Councilman Bill Kuyk
HOLLY, Michigan – Judge Julia C. Stern, an administrative law judge for the Michigan State Office of the Administrative Hearings and Rules listened to testimony last week in which the village of Holly faces three sets of unfair labor charges from village union workers who are members of Teamsters Local 214.
The two-day hearing occurred at the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in Detroit on Aug. 16 and 17. While Councilman Bill Kuyk attended both days of the hearing, other council members maintain that they were given minimal information about the proceedings or were unaware of them altogether.
For the last year and a half, the village of Holly has been embroiled in union contract negotiations, struggling every step of the way until ratifying a contract on Aug. 2. Even so, the union is continuing with the unfair labor practice charges stemming from numerous incidents including allegations of non-payment of overtime wages, non-promotion of union employees, wrongful termination, and a general anti-union sentiment among various village administrators.
Union Business Representative Les Barrett said it has been Village Manager Marsha Power’s lack of communication with council members that has largely contributed to the village's legal woes.
“A year and a half ago, I sent a letter to council with regard to Mrs. Powers not sharing information and reporting back to them completely and accurately,” Barrett said. “I later received a letter from the Village President, Pete Clemens indicating that the council receives its information from the village manager only, and that they didn’t need to receive it from me, so that’s the last time I sent them any information.”
On Monday, Powers confirmed that council members were unaware of last week’s legal proceedings.
“They didn’t know the exact date – they’re not invited to (the hearing) but they knew those unfair labor charges were out there,” Powers said. “But no, they weren’t told they were specifically coming up –it’s not typically something that council members would attend – you can call and ask any neighboring municipality, and they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Kuyk, who attended both sessions of the hearing, said he had received an “FYI” from a member of the community, informing him of the proceedings. After conducting a little research on the Internet as to where the hearing would be held, Kuyk said he called Powers.
“I had to ask her point-blank if there was a hearing,” Kuyk said. “She finally confessed that yes, there was.”
While Kuyk did not discuss the particulars of the testimony, he said the hearing had been “very informational, and insightful,” and that he was pleased he had the opportunity to attend.
Clemens, who didn’t attend the hearing, said that Powers had “briefed” him that there would be two days of testimony pertaining to ongoing issues with the union but declined further comment on the matter.
Longtime village councilman Don Winglemire said he was on vacation at the time, and knew nothing of last week’s proceedings. “If Mrs. Powers notified anybody, it may have been while I was gone,” he said. Winglemire said he was “vaguely aware” of the proceedings from a conversation he had with Powers several months prior regarding upcoming union arbitration.
Councilwoman Pauline Kenner said she knew there was a public hearing on Monday, but didn’t know about Tuesday’s session, while fellow councilwoman Reisa Hamilton said she had been left completely in the dark.
“I had no idea,” Hamilton said. “I knew there were ongoing issues, but I had no idea the hearing was held last week.”
Hamilton said she was angry about the lack of communication on the part of Powers. “You bet I’m mad,” Hamilton said. “One of the biggest problems we’ve had with Mrs. Powers is her lack of communication – generally she’ll say she’s informed council members, but she always lacks the particulars.”
Councilwoman Sandra Kleven said she too, had no idea that a hearing was being held. “I was told things were pending, but had no knowledge of the actual hearing until after the fact.”
Councilman Tom McKenney declined to comment until he has had a chance to review the facts. “I was telling Mr. Clemens that there is a lot of ground fog surrounding this issue, so I need to review everything before I make any comments."
As for legal costs, Powers said labor relations attorney Kenneth Zatkoff had been handling the issue on behalf of the village. “Since October 2008, the village has paid to his law firm, Dean and Fulkerson, $15,189.73,” Powers said. “This is paid for any labor-related issue for the village, and we have a line item for attorney fees in the general fund budget.”
Powers noted that the village has engaged a labor attorney for contract negotiations and other labor-related issues in the past. “When there is something that (Richard) Figura’s firm does not specialize in, it may be forwarded to another attorney if deemed in the best interest of the village,” Powers said.
Judge Stern is expected to make a ruling on Sept. 23 of whether to combine two of the three parts of the complaint due to similar testimonies involved, whether to hear all three sets separately, or whether to reject everything altogether.
Barrett said the hearing is open to the public.