The Youth Department was the subject of some discussion at the Common Council meeting last night, much of it in executive session. Among the new resolutions introduced at the meeting was one authorizing transfers funds within the Youth Department budget. These kinds of intradepartmental transfers are pretty common, but what made this request different was the money was being transferred to pay attorney's fees.
Since no one on the Council could ever remember anything like this happening before, several of the aldermen questioned it. Mayor Kamal Johnson explained that the labor attorney "costs extra," and each department using the labor attorney has to pay the fee. When Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) asked when this had been done before, Johnson responded, "This is just starting this year." When Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) asked what exactly the attorney's fees were for, Johnson was vague, saying it could be for a number of things and adding, "We've had to use the labor attorney a number of times."
When Garriga and Rosenthal pressed for specific information, Nick Zachos, youth director, offered to detail the issues that required the attention of the labor attorney. Doing so, however, required going into executive session, since personnel issues were involved. So every member of the public in attendance at the Zoom meeting was put into a waiting room while the Council heard the reasons why the labor attorney was needed. During the executive session, something bizarre happened. The host, Shaheim DeJesus of Hudson Tech, ended the meeting. It seems the action was inadvertent. The problem was remedied quickly, and everyone was allowed back in, either to the executive session or to the waiting room--everyone except Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), who has in the past often scrutinized the Youth Department and its employment practices.
When the Council came out of executive session, Council president Tom DePietro reported that no decisions had been made. It was then that Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) made it known that Merante had been trying to get back into the meeting but couldn't. After the executive session, the Council voted first to amend the resolution to eliminate the transfer of money for attorney's fees and then to pass the resolution. Merante voted no both times because he had not been part of the executive session and did not know what been disclosed. All the other members of the Council voted in favor.
When DePietro invited new business from the Council, another Youth Department issue was discussed. Rosenthal brought up the subject of union organizing at the Youth Department, which had been reported earlier in the day in the Register-Star: "Youth workers call for unionization"--an article that most of the members of the Council had not seen.
Other city employees belong to CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association), but the union the employees at the Youth Department want to join is CWA (Communications Workers of America). Johnson explained that CWA had "reached out" to him, because the Youth Center employees were not being well represented by CSEA. He spoke of the "extreme lack of communication from the CSEA union." He said he had referred CWA to the labor attorney, whose OK is needed to proceed. Alderman Malachi Walker (Fourth Ward) said unionizing the Youth Department was "long overdue." Garriga expressed her support for unionizing, saying, "Most of the employees at the Youth Department are people of color, and they need representation." She called for the Council to draft a resolution of support of the union, but Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, advised against such action "until you hear from the labor attorney."
The picture below, which is assumed show the Youth Department staff, is the cover photo for the Facebook page announcing a job opening at the Youth Department: a new director to replace Nick Zachos, who in February announced his intention to leave the position.