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City Reinstates Tech Guild President’s Release Time

Published: March 20, 2009

Publication: The Chief

By David Sims

CLAUDE FORT: Can resume duties on city time. Embattled Civil Service Technical Guild President Claude Fort has secured an agreement with the Office of Labor Relations to restore his release time status until an internal District Council 37 investigation against him is resolved.

Under the terms of a stipulation signed March 12, Mr. Fort and his public relations chair at DC 37 Local 375, Vincent Sawinski, will not have their release time revoked by Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley unless, as a result of internal disciplinary charges, they are suspended or removed from office.

Charged With Ethics Violations

Mr. Hanley initially revoked Mr. Fort and Mr. Sawinski’s release time March 2, sending both to their jobs at the Department of Design and Construction after learning of the ethical violation charges filed against them by DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts and Associate Director Oliver Gray.

Mr. Sawinski is accused of no-show status in the union office, which Mr. Fort was allegedly complicit in covering up. The DC 37 charges, which are due to be resolved at an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Judicial Panel hearing April 1, were filed after DC 37 Ethical Practices Officer Bruce Maffeo investigated an anonymous tip.

ARTHUR SCHWARTZ: Squabbling hurting union. When Mr. Hanley learned of the charges in late February, he notified Ms. Roberts by letter of his plans to rescind Mr. Fort’s and Mr. Sawinski’s release time. Once he did, however, Mr. Fort’s attorney, Arthur Schwartz, filed a complaint against the city and received a temporary injunction from Justice Karen Smith of the Manhattan Supreme Court.”Once we got the temporary restraining order, it was pretty clear we were going to get a longer injunction, so they backed off” said Mr. Schwartz in a phone interview.”It’s a big winhellip; you have a union president pulled off of release time and yet he only missed two days at the union”

Infighting Spreads to Lawyers

Mr. Schwartz, who was initially hired by Mr. Fort as a private attorney, is now on retainer at Local 375, replacing Rachel Minter, who was terminated after an internal dispute over her political alliances in the union. Mr. Schwartz said that the power struggles inside the Tech Guild were drawing too much outside attention, reducing its political clout.”All of this internal squabbling right now in Local 375 is basically acting as an invitation to the city to involve itself in internal union affairs, and that isn’t going to be beneficial to anyone in Local 375, members or officers” he said.”Hopefully, this entire matter will soon go away and the local can focus on doing its job for its members”

He is also fighting to have the internal charges against Mr. Fort and Mr. Sawinski dismissed because the AFSCME panel, which will be chaired by Judicial Chair John Seferian, was scheduled well outside the 63-day limit set by the AFSCME constitution to guarantee the right to a swift trial once someone is charged.”We re-filed it in Federal court on March 11 with Sidney Stein, a Federal judge in Manhattan. He’s going to set a hearing date for that, sometime between now and April 1″ Mr. Schwartz said.

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