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Roundtable Discussion

POAM Business Agents Gregg Allgeier, Michael Gerald, and Dave LaMontaine sit down for a roundtable discussion on what they see within their departments and members. Listen to the full episode now, or read the transcription below.

Transcript

Introduction

Warning, warning, warning, warning, warning. It’s the Police Officer’s Association of Michigan Podcast radio show. Recorded live in the studios in Redford, Michigan. POAM is a full-service labor organization formed to provide every labor-related service from negotiations, grievance processing, legal, and legislative representation to Act 312 Arbitrations.

POAM President Jim Tignanelli

I’m always impressed with the conversations that go on at the POAM office around the board room or around the lunch table. I think, frequently, those viewed that are out there being serviced by the Police Officers Association of Michigan, see your business agent, contact your business agent, have a great deal of confidence in them. And I’m glad of that. I’m glad that you trust them and their judgment.

But one of the things that I’ve discovered over the years is how much of those conversations that you hear about are us talking around the table. It’s at lunch and somebody inevitably saying, “Yeah, let me tell you about what happened to me today.” Or one of my guys will call and say, “Let me run something by you.” Things like that. And I just want you to know that we’ve got about 25 people in the place, including the four attorneys and a number of business agents, and everybody’s out there servicing. And many of the problems that you have or things that we’re solving for you we’ve solved in other places. So when you’re looking at your guy, be confident in him, but also know that he’s out there surrounded by a lot of other people with a lot of time and experience too. And you get the benefit of all of that at the same time.

Michael Gerald

Actually, I have one for you guys that just came up the other day. Maybe you can give me a little guidance on it. I had a TPOAM member that was on his way to work. And then he got scheduled for a drug test that he knew he was going to fail, and he called me and asked what I should do. So I told him to go take the test. What do you guys think about that?

Dave LaMontaine

I would just like to say, that this is not a Euchre game. Tabletop discussions are allowed here, right? It’s not prohibited. You’re a New Yorker, Augie. You don’t understand such things. But Mike, I think… Did he study for this test? Or what was the story with this test business?

Michael Gerald

Yeah. He studied really hard the night before, so he was prepared for the test the next day.

Dave LaMontaine

Augie, what do you think?

Greg Allgeier

Well, had he not cooperated and took the test, he’s obviously going to be subject to an insubordination charge and most likely be fired. So kind of has to fall on his sword and see how you can mitigate it for him.

Michael Gerald

Yeah. I told them just to be honest and open with his boss and let them know what’s going on. And he took the test, and it seems like everything’s going to be okay. He’s not going to get terminated.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. Ultimately, in this day and age especially, honesty’s the best policy, for the most part. Most of our people are not going to do anything intentionally criminal where they’re going to get fired, so we always recommend honesty and transparency when our folks are compelled to give a statement.

Michael Gerald

And it was pretty unique too because he was using marijuana the night before, which is considered a legal substance now, but he also has a CDL, so it’s kind of a tricky situation for that type of employee.

Dave LaMontaine

This place got a zero-tolerance policy?

Michael Gerald

It does. Yeah.

Dave LaMontaine

All right. So we’ve run into some trouble with this zero-tolerance business because you mentioned the medical marijuana stuff. And even the guys that don’t have CDLs are studying for these examinations, as you put it, probably too hard, and it’s all over the place. We’ve got guys with zero tolerance, some tolerance, no tolerance. And it’s really kind of difficult to manage those things.

Michael Gerald

Do you guys have anything in any of your contracts that address marijuana specifically since it’s been legalized?

Dave LaMontaine

No, I don’t. A lot of the language is antiquated because we’re dealing with the MDOT standards, the Department of Transportation, some kind of federal guidelines that don’t speak to this issue.

Michael Gerald

What about you, Augie?

Greg Allgeier

Was yours random? Or was it-

Michael Gerald

It was.

Michael Gerald

They do it like every couple of months. So the employer is pretty on the ball with that.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. Because I had a situation once where they called the guy in, but he had the opportunity to call in sick. They called him in too early, which kind of forwarded the random test because it should have been implemented by the employer, upon his arrival at the workplace. But he had called in, and in this case it was alcohol and they tried to discipline them, but they really didn’t have a valid test on the alcohol because he was sick and in compliance with the contract. But we still recommend that guys be obviously fit for duty. And like I said, honesty’s the best policy.

Dave LaMontaine

So, Augie, you mentioned something that makes me think about this notion of following the order, right? We had a case just not too long ago, you and I actually talked about this, that the guy wasn’t scheduled, wasn’t random. He’d been scheduled before the COVID thing caused all kinds of issues with the place they would go to do these tests. So he gets notified.

He works the midnight shift. The employer tells him sometime during his shift, “Hey, you got to take this test at 0800.” The guy’s like, “Well, I got to take my kid to school, distance learning. Got to pick up this laptop. I got to be there at this time, this date.” His employer’s got a zero-tolerance policy. They fired this guy. But the key component here is he didn’t go. He didn’t comply with the order, which then causes us difficulty defending his position. He’s got legitimate-

Greg Allgeier

Grievance.

Dave LaMontaine

… grievance. Had he gone there, then it would have been no problem at all. And it wasn’t like he was trying to dodge it. He’s like, “Listen, my kids got to be at school. I got to take her there. I got to pick up this laptop.” These are kinds of issues all over the place. I think just to Jim’s point, it’s not like we don’t… We talk about this stuff every day. “Hey, what do you think about this?” I’m in Jim’s office all the time. Mikey just took over a group. Being a newer business agent, I don’t know. Augie, what do you call them? Millennials, you call them?

Greg Allgeier

They might be Gen Z.

Michael Gerald

No, no. No, I’m for sure a millennial. I’ve come to grips with it.

Greg Allgeier

Okay. That’s okay. Your actually kind of uncharacteristic for millennials.

Dave LaMontaine

So Mike, talk about the issue of how does it work when you take over a group from a crusty guy like Augie, for example. What’s the process?

Michael Gerald

So we… Jim usually doles out the groups to newer business agents, and then I get the files and all the paperwork that’s gone along with that group for the history of them being part of POAM. Go through bargaining history and get a feel for the group and then reach out to the local leadership, your president, your vice president, give them a heads up that I’ll be the new point of contact. But in this case, specifically, I’ve got a couple of new groups.

Dave, you’ll be my grievance agent along with that. So you’ve had a history with the new groups that I… So I can go to you and get all the information and bounce ideas off of you because you’re familiar with the team. Groups that I’ve taken over for Augie, it’s been the same thing, the transition. We meet with everybody, let them know that it had nothing to do with anything else than just restructuring and going from there. It’s usually pretty seamless.

Dave LaMontaine

I know, Mike, Augie and I pick on you because you’re a millennial, but you’re a veteran police officer. You’ve been around. You’ve been active in your local. It’s not like you’re 10 years old, right?

Michael Gerald

Right. I’ve been doing this for like 20 years, so I appreciate you saying that, Dave.

Dave LaMontaine

I know, Augie’s giving me the side-eye over there.

Greg Allgeier

Well, let’s get back on track. COVID threw a big wrench in the works. Yeah, no. Mike’s doing a good job. COVID’s thrown a big wrench in the works, and we’re roundtabling every day on this. As a matter of fact, coming over here today, we just found out through our worker’s comp attorney, Andrea Hamm, that we deal with constantly, she gave me an update that the governor approved some sort of legislation or executive order or something that trumps the latest Michigan Supreme court, trump on her.

But in any event, first responders are now back to being presumed covered if they test positive for COVID. I believe Mr. Grabowski, our legislative director, just had an issue with one of his groups that he serviced. So that’s already being straightened out as far as the presumption.

Greg Allgeier

But we’ve run the whole gamut of problems with COVID just like everyone else, as far as being ordered to take a test. Obviously, the employer wants a safe environment, but there are demands to bargain on the change of working conditions. But we all have to kind of work together and be reasonable because we want to keep everyone safe and healthy. But by the same token, we have to represent our people. And we’re constantly bouncing this off of each other at the lunch table or in the office.

I mean, sometimes I’m in the office early. I get in like at 6:30, 7:00 in the morning just to get some work done because a lot of times we’re bouncing things off each other and playing devil’s advocate, and someone’s being the employer in a mock situation. The next thing you know, we’re either going to arbitration on the issue, or we’re going to maybe turn our strategy around and try and resolve the issue. So it really is a network of experienced people that POAM has that allows us to serve our groups very efficiently.

Michael Gerald

Talking about COVID for a second, Augie. I know you and I have had a lot of discussions about this because I was getting a zillion calls from all my local leadership, and I know you were as well. I’m getting a lot of calls now from people that… Not so many police groups, but other TPOAM groups that have been off this entire time, but are being compelled to come back to work, and they’re all kind of freaking out about it. And they don’t like hearing me say, “You got to go back to work at some point, even if you’re afraid.” I mean, have you had a lot of that?

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. And that goes back to what Frank, our general counsel Frank Guido, always tells us. You have to comply with a lawful order by the employer, and then we grieve later. And that’s the way we operate through the collective bargaining agreement. So yeah. It’s a delicate situation. People are afraid and frightened these days, but the bottom line is this is no time to lose your job either.

Michael Gerald

That’s a good point.

Greg Allgeier

So you have to take all the necessary precautions and just go along with the program unless it’s really outrageous.

Dave LaMontaine

Augie, can I just come back to this worker’s comp business? We were just talking about that before we went live on the air. You can look for this to come out on your POAM app. You’ll get a notification about all the details. But talk about this business with this COVID, and you’ve got TPOAM groups, you’ve got TPW groups, you’ve got police groups, you’ve got police command groups, and how it runs the gamut.

Half of our people have been working this whole time, and half of our people haven’t been working at all, working from home in your pajamas or whatever. So have you had situations where employers have really not done the right thing as far as CDC requirements, letting people come back, social distancing, all that stuff?

Greg Allgeier

I don’t really think any employer would take the risk of bringing their employees back without setting up the latest CDC precautions. But of course, the essential workers were never sent home remotely. So that’s kind of the rub on the whole thing as far as CARES Act and compensation. A lot of employers were treating nonessential workers as essential workers. So like you said, it really does run the whole gamut of consideration. And that’s why I sent the generic letter out to my 40 something groups, just to ask the employer to consider particularly the essential workers, including the DPW guys.

We have a lot of DPW folks and TPOAM, and those folks were on the front lines. And there’s a different degree of exposure, potential exposure between the police officers, the dispatchers, the DPW folks, and then even the general employees who still have to work the counter at times. So it’s just such an overwhelming pandemic that has affected everyone in so many different ways. We just all have to keep calm heads and try and do the best for our folks and protect them.

Dave LaMontaine

Augie, you mentioned, and we were talking about this a couple of days ago, this notion that the Senate bill that led to this notion of the terminology, essential workers. It’s not something that POAM invented. That’s something that the legislature came out with, and there are people that we represent that worked the whole time that have not got that bonus. And you were talking about the funding or lack thereof of this money the other day.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. You’re talking about $1,000.

Dave LaMontaine

The $1,000, yeah.

Greg Allgeier

Which had to be, I believe, paid out by September 30th, correct?

Dave LaMontaine

Yeah.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. That was specific to approximately six groups. And typically first responders – I believe fireman, dispatchers were included in that.

Michael Gerald

That’s correct, yeah.

Greg Allgeier

But the DPW was not, and that created problems. And I have some groups that are what we call a split group. Some of my Sheriff’s departments have clerks in there in the bargaining unit.

Dave LaMontaine

Yeah. Or cooks.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. And unfortunately, they were not considered in that grant money. There is a provision for the employer to pay them, again, out of the general fund and then recapture the payroll money through part of that CARES Act, but that all has to be generated by the employer and really have to kind of beg the employer to consider the other folks.

I’m in the process of doing that now. What I’ve done in a recent proposal was I did a base wage adjustment for the clerks in my split group of a specific Sheriff’s department, which brings them up to that 1,000 bucks that they should have probably received. So that was a way around it. Whether I can get that through or not, I’m trying for the folks, and they’re pretty happy that at least I’m trying for them.

Dave LaMontaine

Mike, have you had to come up in any of your places?

Michael Gerald

A couple of my places, they were giving hazard pay the entire time for the first responders. And then DPW workers kind of got screwed on that, and they were working every single day like we were talking about it. I think that a lot of the employers were pretty generous during this entire thing, at least maybe if they couldn’t compensate them with any kind of hazard pay, but they were doing split shifts or reduced work hours, things like that so that people could stay safe and stay healthy and be with their families and protect the people that they live with. But I… Yeah, not specifically what Augie was saying though.

Dave LaMontaine

Augie, there’s been a couple of groups that have taken action, taken money out of the general fund, and paid people that were missed. I know you mentioned a couple, and I’ve got a couple, so that trend is not… That’s not over with, and that’s something that we’re going to have to continue to keep an eye on. And we really don’t have contractual authority to compel an employer to do such a thing. The places that have done it just kind of did it because it was the right thing to do.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. And that was before the grant money was available because that was also incumbent on the employer to apply and get approved. And a lot of places required a letter of understanding in case the money never came through because they advanced that money out of their general fund. So it really is specific to each group, and that’s part of the reason why you want to maintain a good relationship with the employer, although, you’re going to try and always do the best for the group. But it makes no sense to be constantly in an adversarial, confrontational situation with these employers. If you have a reasonable employer, you should act accordingly.

Michael Gerald

That was something that I kind of picked up on early on in this career. A lot of the local leadership wants us to come in and scream and yell and act like fools in negotiations, and it just doesn’t work out that well on our side a lot of the time because we ended up becoming so contentious that they don’t want to deal with the union whatsoever.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah. Well, you got to remember our jobs different than being the local president and sitting at the bargaining table with your local group. Our job is to take in everything from the local, so to speak, wishlist, what’s going on here locally, the issues, the problems because they have a lot of things that they’re taking personally, perhaps. We’ve got to look at the big picture and get the best package back to the group to ratify. And that comes down to constantly being in touch with your local people. And I’m retired six years. You’re still active, Mike. Dave, you’re out about five years, right?

Dave LaMontaine

Right. Yeah.

Greg Allgeier

So in this world today, I mean, speaking to millennials, I mean, they call and ask questions they know the answers to. So I’m pretty up on things, and I like to stay current with not only current events but active officers in the latest trends on policing and what’s going on out there because you don’t want to be disconnected these days. That’s a sure way to not service a group properly.

Michael Gerald

Circling back to what you said, Dave, about transitioning from one business agent to another when I get a group, that’s one thing that I kind of put out there. Right off the bat, I tell them I’m going to be kind of annoying because I’m so involved with stuff day-to-day. And maybe if they came from a different union totally, where they didn’t even know who their business agent was, I’m like texting, calling, emailing these people like a jealous girlfriend all the time.

Dave LaMontaine

No, you’re not going to be kind of annoying, like you are annoying. There’s no getting around it. The facts are-

Michael Gerald

I’m a millennial.

Dave LaMontaine

That’s a good point though, Mike, because I think I’ve kind of taken Mike and a few other guys, given them a little orientation, ordered by President Tignanelli, but it’s a good idea. What I do is I have 40 something groups, and I have everyone on an email distribution list. And I’ve offered that to Mike and Al Breeze, who’s just come on recently, and Eric Ronewicz. To me, information is key. Information is power. And the most current or topical events that I can push out that people can use…

And I’ve got all my groups in here. I’ve got cop groups. I’ve got dispatchers. I’ve got DPW workers. I’ve got court clerks. And I push out generic information and specific information, and they take it for what it’s worth, but I make sure that they’re getting the most topical information, whether it be legislative, Lansing information, COVID information from Blue Cross. It’s just a matter of staying in touch with everyone, and most of my folks when they call me, I return their call by the end of the business day. And I think that’s all our folks really want. They want to be able to get a hold of somebody to answer a question, and that’s what I do. And if I don’t have the information, I go to research it.

Michael Gerald

Well, Augie, you’re my business agent, and I mean, prior to me working for POAM-

Greg Allgeier

Oh boy.

Michael Gerald

I know. That’s why I’m so good at this job. No, I mean, we are in constant contact all the time. And then prior that, Tignanelli was my business agent. We talked all the time, so it’s kind of what we do.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah.

Dave LaMontaine

That’s one thing that Tig has ingrained in all of us is, I mean, you got to call these people back. There’s really no reason that they shouldn’t hear from you. I was telling Steve Sellers, I know that one of our guys is coming off the job and transitioning to this work is… He calls me all the time. First thing he always says, “Dave, hey, sorry to bother you.” “Steve, you’re not bothering me. We’re supposed to have these conversations.” Just like we’re talking about here now.

Greg Allgeier

Yeah.

Dave LaMontaine

We spitball this stuff all the time in the office. We’re at lunch, we’re in the lunchroom, coming, going. I called Augie last night, I think 6:30 at night because that’s how it’s supposed to do. And for our local guys, sometimes they feel like they’re hesitant to call. Hell, I told Eric Ronewicz yesterday, “If you’re driving someplace, driving back from someplace, call your local presidents.” Because they’ll say, “Oh, Hey, I didn’t want to bother you. Hey, but while I got you on the phone, what do you think about this?” And it’s like, bro, just call me. “I didn’t want to bother you.” You’re not bothering me. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.

Greg Allgeier

Tignanelli’s famous for that. He goes all over the state, and he’s constantly checking in. That’s a good habit to get into. And the bottom line is, we’re going to serve these folks, and it’s not 1980 or 1990 or 2000. It’s we have to adapt just like you do as a cop, right? I mean, I came on the job in 1983 in NYPD, and I went to Dearborn and that was a whole different place than NYPD. But you constantly have to adapt, and in police work, just like this job, you can learn something every day from a rookie, right? And like you say, this roundtable, the roundtables we have at work, when some of us played devil’s advocate, I mean, even the most senior guy can learn from a new guy because of the constant adaptation that’s required for this job.

Greg Allgeier

And really POAM, with the people that they’ve brought in the last 10 years has recognized that because there’s a different service level required these days than 20, 30 years ago. 30 years ago, you just went in and negotiated wages. Today, you have to have a handle on Act PA 54, Public Act 152, you have to be a wizard, or at least a semi wizard, in healthcare. Thank God we have good liaisons too, like Shelly from Blue Cross Blue Shield, right? Andrea Hamm, workers’ comp.

This all goes into the cake here at POAM and networking like we do all the time. I mean, honestly, that’s why I get in early because we are bouncing stuff off each other, constantly, whether at lunch, throughout the office. I mean, there’s not a quiet time in that office because someone’s always in trouble. Some weird thing’s happening that’s out of the scope, and sometimes we even the lawyers, but we always work it out and we always do the right thing.

Michael Gerald

I’m still kind of hung up that when Jim calls… I wasn’t special. I didn’t realize he was calling everybody else on his way to and from other places. But touching on what you said, Augie, about learning. As a matter of fact, I had a weird one the other day where I actually called President Tignanelli and said, “I got to run something past you. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with this before.” And I had a guy who is being disciplined that I’ve been working with for weeks and weeks and weeks. And it turned out I didn’t know the specifics of what he had done or what he was involved with until we had a hearing about it, and it turns out he was an informant for another law enforcement agency and President Tignanelli said, “I haven’t heard that one yet.” So it was kind of a new thing for everybody.

Dave LaMontaine

You stumped Tig. That’s doing something right there.

Michael Gerald

Yeah. It wasn’t a great hearing. But other than that, it was a learning experience for everybody.

Closing

I want to thank everybody for tuning into another edition of the POAM Podcast radio show. I want to remind you that each and every month you can find every single podcast online on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Just search for POAM (or our full name). They’re also available for download or for live listen on our website. Visit us at poam.net. Get on our newsletter and send us all of your comments and suggestions for future shows.

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