The case of the missing invoice ... FairPoint and union collide

By Reade Brower | Jan 22, 2015

"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” — Jessica Mitford, author and journalist, civil rights activist (1917-1996)

Appleton Fire Chief David Stone made the news last week when he resigned on the spot after warning the Select Board that he would quit if the board continued to micromanage his department.

Stone was a 30-year veteran of the force with the last 20 as chief. The final straw was a $34 print cartridge that he bought on his business credit card and asked for reimbursement, but would not share the invoice because it was muddled into his business account statement which Stone deemed personal and didn’t want to share with the board.

While the incident itself is fairly benign, the tension on this must have been on slow simmer for some time for it to erupt the way it did.

A Courier news article stated; “Board Chairman Donald Burke declined comment when contacted Jan. 13 and referred questions to the written minutes …in the written minutes it reads that Stone requested the reimbursement of the cartridges that were paid through his business credit card. The chief explained to the Select Board he was not able to provide an invoice. When told he would not be reimbursed, he became agitated and tossed a balled up piece of paper at one of the selectmen and announced his resignation.”

It is hard not to call this $34 dispute petty, but at some point a business (or a town) has to draw a line in the sand. I am with the chief that this is micromanaging, but I would also remind him that the selectmen are his boss; when a boss sets down guidelines, it is your job to abide by them or ask for them to be changed.

Doing neither is not only stubborn but wrong.

I am not a good rule-follower; that is why, since I was 21 years old, I have always worked for myself. Stone works for himself and, at least in his business, is king. But not when you work for somebody; in my case, I work only for my customers and I get to make the rules. If they ask me to jump through a hoop, no matter how stupid, I usually say “how high do you want me to jump.” If it is demeaning, I can refuse and accept the consequences; that’s what working for yourself is all about.

While I am fully behind Stone’s accusation that the selectmen and the board are micromanaging and should revisit this management style, I am also fully behind their right to create the rules and policies that will prevent abuses and actually help people in Stone’s position not be accused of wrongdoing.

Chief Stone’s refusal to comply, or to suggest a rule change or other out-of-the-box solution (a reader comment suggested a petty cash fund for expenses under $50) seems petulant to me and not very understanding that the town’s bean-counters are just doing the job they were elected to do.

In the end, it is a shame to lose a veteran like Stone over $34, but common sense says that a line in the sand has to be upheld, or changed through policy. Letting one individual dictate it by claiming its stupidity does not meet the challenge.

***

Members of IBEW Local 2327 continue to strike at the FairPoint Communications building in Rockland. Since the strike started Oct. 17, there has been little movement, and FairPoint has drawn a hard line and has been accused of not negotiating.

Tim McLean, Rockland picket captain, said that everything is controlled by out-of-state entities and summarized, “It’s Wall Street against Main Street.”

Meanwhile, FairPoint has hired the Rockland Police Department to keep the peace and protect its buildings, much to the dismay of McLean and striking workers. Deputy Chief Wally Tower pointed out that the police are not adversarial against anyone; they are there to protect the strikers from harassment as well. City Manager Thomas Luttrell told the press that private companies often contract with the city to provide police supervision and reminded the public that there is no added burden on the taxpayers when this occurs.

I have always been pro-worker, but am not a big supporter of unions because they often create adversarial confrontations and sometimes negotiate with bravado, stubbornness or not at all, helping create an “us against them” mentality; that is what is hard to support.

The one certainty of this strike is that it is hurting everyone. Workers are not getting paid, clients are not being served, and the company is not in a harmonious place.

And both sides in a union shop tend to dig in their heels. I would not want to work in a culture that is “us against you.” The challenge is for both sides to come forward, sit down and agree not to leave the room until progress is made, and to promise to come back every day until an agreement is hammered out.

If no agreement is reached in 30 days, agree to binding arbitration on what you agree to disagree on. Otherwise, the fight continues and nobody is the winner.

Read, write, and respond!

***

Pay it sideways, pay it forward, do something bigger than yourself.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jan 22, 2015 08:39

"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them."
Martin Luther King Jr

 



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