Union files state labor complaints against NPU, General Manager Bilda

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Norwich — The union representing supervisory workers at Norwich Public Utilities has filed three complaints against NPU and General Manager John Bilda alleging he attempted to create a new high-level position and appoint someone to it without following contractual procedures and threatened union leaders.

AFSME Council 4 filed the three formal labor complaints with the state Board of Labor Relations on behalf of affiliated Local 1303-042, which represents 45 supervisory employees at NPU. The complaints allege that NPU, “through the agency of General Manager John Bilda,” violated the state Municipal Employees Relations Act by threatening local union leadership if the union did not comply with a request to waive job posting requirements under the merit system for a new position of manager-business services/assistant to the general manager.

One complaint quoted Bilda as saying he would make union President Rob Harris’ life “hell” and would make “the union’s life hell” if the union did not allow Bilda to forego the posting and name someone to the position. “This is a threat,” the complaint quoted Bilda as saying.

Reached Tuesday night, Bilda said he was “surprised and shocked” that the complaints were filed. He admitted the conversation in a closed-door meeting became “animated” and said he apologized to union leaders for comments he made.

Bilda said only one employee is eligible for the position, and past practice had been to waive the merit system job posting in those circumstances. He said the position was a restructuring of staff and not an added position. He said waiving the merit system rules for posting the position would save the utility and city time and money.

“I had a conversation with the union,” Bilda said. “There was a misunderstanding and I’m surprised and shocked that the union handled it this way. We have always enjoyed a very good working relationship with AFSCME and the organization. I certainly believe this could be handled better.”

Bilda said he hopes to meet with union officials to resolve the issues.

Kevin Murphy, director of collective bargaining and organizing for Council 4, disagreed that only one employee would be eligible for the position and said Bilda couldn’t just decide to waive the merit system posting unilaterally. He said when union leaders brought that issue to Bilda’s attention, “that’s when it got hostile.”

“There’s a procedure to go through,” Murphy said. “You can’t just waive it unless there’s mutual agreement. There might be more people qualified. You don’t know, because it was never posted.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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