Harrisburg Parking Authority on the hook

Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed‘s proposal to lease the
Harrisburg Parking Authority‘s 11 parking facilities will go nowhere unless the
union that represents the authority’s employees negotiates with the company
that wants to take over operations.

Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed‘s proposal to lease the
Harrisburg Parking Authority‘s 11 parking facilities will go nowhere unless the
union that represents the authority’s employees negotiates with the company
that wants to take over operations.

AFSCME Local 521 B, the local union representing the
employees, unanimously voted May 2 against negotiating with Harrisburg Public Parking
(HPP), the company looking to take over operations.

Knowing this, the Harrisburg Parking Authority last night at
a special meeting still approved a 75-year lease contract that would deliver a
one-time up-front payment of $215 million to the authority and wipe out
authority and city debt. The authority voted 3-2.

There is a dangerous catch to the agreement.

Should the union continue to not negotiate and the deal
falls through, the authority must pay HPP a penalty of up to $2 million.

“(The authority) may as well have written (HPP) a check last
night,” said Gail Lewis, local shop steward for AFSCME 521 B. “The vote we took
on Friday was to not open the contract for negotiations at all.”

Authority Vice Chairman Zane G. Phoenix and Treasurer
Anthony Ross voted against the deal. Approving the measure before the union is
willing to negotiate doesn’t make sense because it puts the authority on the
hook for $2 million, Phoenix
said. He compared it to putting the cart before the horse. Ross expressed the
same view. Phoenix and Ross each said it would be better
to first iron out terms with the union and revisit the vote.

Authority Executive Director Joseph V. Link recommended the
authority adopt the lease. Last week Link told authority members he would not
recommend approval until the union issue was worked out. Before an emotionally
charged crowd, Phoenix
last night asked Link why he changed
his mind a week later and if he knew for certain that the union would change
their stance.

“I have no quantifiable evidence,” Link said. “If the board
does not vote tonight to approve this it will die on the vine.”

However, new information Link said he could not share due to
ongoing negotiations had come to light. Which is why he is confident the union
contract will be approved, he said.

All 52 AFSCME employees working for the authority last week voted against opening negotiations,
Lewis said. The employees are working under a contract that is only four months
old, she said. The authority and Reed both signed off on it, she said. A
provision of the contract prevents a
takeover such as this, Lewis said. The contract started Jan. 1 and runs through
Dec. 31, 2012.

The union held the vote last week to prevent bargaining in
bad faith, she said.

Authority employees filled the meeting last night and spoke
out against adopting the contract during the public-comment portion. Many expressed fear over losing their
jobs, wages and benefits. One female employee started crying.

HPP President Jacob A. Frydman was in attendance and responded to the crowd. He promised to
keep all employees in their positions if they are good workers, pay them the
same or more than they already make and enhance the facilities where they work.

Reed responded to the crowd, too. He said he would have to
be crazy to stand in front of cameras and a room full of workers and residents
and make false statements about the contract.

“I heard some extraordinary things based on fear, innuendos
and lies,” Reed said. “No AFSCME 521 B members will be losing their jobs.
You’re not losing any compensation. Most will be making more. AFSCME doesn’t go
away.”

The proposal will move to City Council for a vote. The authority’s
adoption of the lease agreement puts pressure on council to keep the authority
from losing up to $2 million, said councilman Dan Miller. Council will not vote
on the lease agreement until members have had time to review the terms of the
more than 100-page document thoroughly, Miller said.

This story has been modified from its original version to reflect the correct name of Harrisburg Public Parking.

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