July 04, 2007
In East Hampton: Union Membership Still Disgruntled
The meeting was hot, and it wasn't just the Mexican food. On June 20, several dozen members of the East Hampton town employees' union grilled union leaders and upIsland reps from the regional Civil Service Employee Association for over an hour, according to sources. Concerned about potential town hall retribution, employees interviewed have asked to remain anonymous. Union president J.J. Kremm did not return calls for rebuttal by press time.
Last month, news of the CSEA's endorsement of incumbent Supervisor Bill McGintee elicited unrest among the membership. No vote of the workers had been taken before a press release from People for McGintee heralding the endorsement was distributed. Kremm and upIsland labor relations specialist Stephanie Teff both explained the endorsement was made based on Kremm's recommendation.
But before the explanation could be made, said one attendee, "Right off the bat, J.J. lied to us." Kremm had credited McGintee as being fair to the workers, but parks department employees heard a different story privately – that the supervisor became so irate during negotiations he tossed Kremm from the room. Kremm recanted the take before the entire membership during the meeting, prompting the exodus of irate parks department employees.
Over and over throughout the meeting members decried making the endorsement without even interviewing McGintee's challenger Bill Wilkinson. Suggestions of holding a "Meet the Candidates" night were discouraged by Teff, sources said. When the question kept re-occurring, union VP Steve Arkenson agreed to pursue such an event.
Some members suggested a petition drive to withdraw the endorsement. Again, upIsland union reps offered discouragement. It's never been done before, they argued.
When the press release was first distributed and reported, employees' questions comments attributed to Kremm. In an interview with The Independent, he allowed his comments had been ghostwritten, but that he did approve them. At the meeting he told union members that he approved the release, when a "lady" showed up at his Montauk jobsite during working hours and handed it to him to approve. Critics raised brows at the news, wondering whether or not that could be considered electioneering on town time.
As the grilling of Kremm and out-of-town union officials continued, some asked the president 'who are you to make an endorsement on your own, when you weren't even elected?' Kremm reportedly replied that he was selected by people who had been elected, so he could claim leadership.
Union members have noted that not one member of the current executive board was elected by the full membership. Elections are held every four years. If a leader leaves, say to take a position as department head, as recent president Bob Pease did, his replacement is appointed by higher ups.