After the city’s labor relations chief left for maternity leave and didn’t come back, the city is paying a private lawyer $235 per hour to take the lead in negotiating new union contracts for the rest of the year.
Marjan Mashhadi, who joined the city in November of 2011 as director of labor relations, stepped down on March 1 from her $98,000 post following a three-month maternity leave.
Floyd Dugas (pictured above) has been serving as acting director of labor relations for the past several months since Mashhadi took leave. Dugas, a private lawyer with Berchem, Moses & Devlin, is working on an hourly contract, taking on a role historically filled by a public employee. He said he is charging the city $235 per hour and working about two full days per week on labor relations duties.
Dugas will likely stay in that role for the rest of the year: The labor relations chief serves at the will of the mayor, according to Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. Because Mayor John DeStefano plans to retire at the end of the year, any new hire would be guaranteed work only until Dec. 31.
“There’s no way we’re going to hire somebody to be a director in that short of a period,” Smuts said.
In Mashhadi’s absence, Scott Nabel, a city staff attorney in the labor relations office, has been handling day-to-day affairs such as settling grievances; Dugas has been handling contract negotiations for a half-dozen city unions.
Dugas has made progress on at least two of those contracts in the past few months: He brokered a deal on a new police contract, which cops ratified in February, nearly two years after the old contract expired.
Dugas said he has also come to an agreement with AFSCME Council 4 Local 3144 on the bulk of a new contract for city managers. The two sides have agreed on everything, “except for three issues that are going to arbitration,” he said.
Meanwhile, he is also negotiating with the public works and parks unions. Talks with the fire union have entered binding arbitration, Dugas said, but “the parties continue to have an open line of communication.”
Smuts said the city often hires a private attorney to help when contracts go to binding arbitration. Without a labor relations director, Dugas has simply been doing more work than a private attorney would usually do, Smuts said.
Dugas said he is spending about two full days a week negotiating on behalf of the city in labor talks. He also served as acting labor relations director for several months in late 2011, between the time Craig Manemeit left and Mashhadi replaced him.
Smuts said Dugas has been doing well in his post.
“It’s important to keep these contracts moving along,” Smuts said. And it’s important to have somebody in the job who already has relationships with the union leaders, he added. “Floyd fits the bill on all of those” criteria.
Dugas is perhaps best known as the lead investigator in a probe into allegations of grade-changing at Hillhouse High School. He also has three contracts with the Board of Education, representing them on student matters, labor negotiations, and litigation. Those contracts have been “fairly quiet” of late, he said.