Lack of respect working against HUD cooperation

August 15, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
    Recent stories written by Kevin
    E-mail: kvaline@modbee.com

— The Housing Authority has consistently been ranked by HUD as a top performer for how it runs its public housing and Section 8 programs for low-income residents. The authority also is an innovator.

For instance, it is building an apartment complex to provide housing and services for low-income former foster children who have aged out of the system. Officials say there is not another project like this in the San Joaquin Valley, despite a desperate need for such services.

But there is something amiss at the authority.

That was on display during the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners' meeting Thursday. The commissioners voted 5-1 to impose the authority's last, best and final offer on its nearly 60 employees represented by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Workers, ending a monthslong stalemate between the authority and the union.

About three dozen employees packed the meeting at the Housing Authority's Robertson Road office in west Modesto.

The issues separating the two did not seem insurmountable, such as the union's desire for a 2.5 percent cost of living increase. The authority offered 2 percent.

But what was apparent is that the commissioners and union members felt they had not been treated with respect by the other side.

Employees accused commissioners of not understanding the responsibilities of their positions, rubber-stamping whatever management recommended, and treating employees rudely by rolling their eyes during meetings.

They said commissioners and management spent tens of thousands of dollars attending conferences while employees have borne the brunt of tough economic times.

"The executive director did not earn the good reputation and high performer rating that this agency has; we all did," one employee said.

AFSCME business agent Nancy Vinson said management's position is to automatically reject suggestions from the union and its employees.

She said that when the union suggested forming a committee of management and union members to look at ways to ease the burden of rising health care costs on workers, management would not consider it.

She claimed management treats the union's proposals as "some perceived threat to (its) power and control."

Commissioners said they were sympathetic with and appreciated the employees but they also were fed up. At one point it appeared as though Commissioner Dirk Hoek was going to give employees a tongue-lashing but held back.

The 2 percent raise imposed Thursday is retroactive to Oct. 1. Commissioners said the raise was as much as what other housing authorities in the valley were giving, with some giving no raises and having employees take furloughs.

Negotiations between the authority and the union for the next contract will start next week.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at (209) 578-2316 or kvaline@modbee.com.

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