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Union recognition bid fails for port harbor employees

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 21, 1998

LAPLACE – A bid for union recognition by Harbor Services employees of the Port of South Louisiana failed in a 5-2 vote of the South Louisiana Port Commission Wednesday.

The employees had signed on with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO) and were seeking recognition of the union for collective bargaining position.

Helping to swing the vote against the employees was Gov. Foster’s son,Murphy Foster III, who addressed the port meeting and told the commissioners, “Would you be giving up any rights? Yes.”Foster stressed the employees have the unquestioned right to join a union, but with recognition of the union’s authority to engage in collective bargaining, the commissioners would open themselves up to individual liability.

Foster came into the picture following an impromptu meeting at his law office in Baton Rouge where the “union-buster” attorney met with Commissioners Brandt Dufrene, Brent Tregre and Cart Davis, according to Tregre.

The commissioners were in Baton Rouge to discuss matters with attorney Stephen Irving over the ongoing Bay Star Enterprises matter when they learned Foster was in the same building. After what Tregre termed aninformative meeting which helped swing his vote, Foster volunteered to address the commission without compensation.

The two commissioners supporting the union were E.J. Martin and LouisJoseph, both of St. John the Baptist Parish. St. James commissioner CartDavis abstained from the vote at the request of St. James Parish PresidentDale Hymel Jr., Tregre said.Carey Simoneaux of the AFL-CIO told the commissioners after the vote he was “disappointed in them for not affording them the right.”After the Aug. 12 port meeting, commissioners were informally polled asthey left the building as to their stand on the union and employees were led to believe they had enough votes to assure victory. However, after theFoster meeting, the tide turned against the union.

Union President Garland Webb told the commission during discussion that the union has represented Calcasieu Parish employees since the mid- 1960s, and this would be the first port authority to have union employees.

“What we sell is representation,” Webb stated.

Commission President Dufrene declared of the employees, “They are doing an outstanding job on the river,” and he added the commission is pushing the state Civil Service Board for improved pay.

Executive Director Gary LaGrange then read aloud a list of employee benefits, including 100 percent-paid health insurance, uniforms, time and a half pay for all time worked over 106 hours in a two-week period and a higher entrance pay scale.

According to the state Civil Service pay scale, a firefighter/deckhand salary starts at $974 per month and tops out at $1,609 per month. FiretugCapt. Kerry Cunningham said some Harbor Service employees are on foodstamps to supplement their income.

A firetug captain pay scale runs from $1,565 to $2,584 per month, identical to that of an executive secretary and that of a purchasing agent.

On the other end of the scale, there are four unclassified employees at the Port of South Louisiana.

Deputy Director Don Hays earns $70,000, less than the national average of $89,000. Governmental Affairs Director and Legal Counsel Joseph Accardoearns $101,000, less than the national average of $87,000. Director ofBusiness Development Kay Jackson earns $62,000, less than the national average of $74,000. Meanwhile, LaGrange affirmed that since May he earns$106,000 per year, exactly the national average for such positions.

LaGrange insisted the port is always trying to get more money and upgrades for employees before the Civil Service Board. He added a surveyis in progress to compare salaries with comparable private-industry positions in order to persuade the Civil Service Board to agree on better compensation.

The question of getting state supplemental pay for the Harbor Service employees was brought up in Baton Rouge, but port officials were told that as state employees, Harbor Services personnel do not qualify for that program.

LaGrange noted the port is cooperating with a January 1998 Civil Service directive to upgrade the skilled positions for all Harbor Services employees, resulting in a 10.5 percent pay raise for all deckhands,engineers and captains.

Dufrene commented later, “We have gone out of our way to help them,” and he said the employees have no problem with the present administration but save most of their anger for the administration of former director Richard Clements.

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