LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) - A state judge blasted Lowell's city manager, saying he lied, retaliated against workers and played favorites -- all to bust a union.
An administrative law judge for the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) ruled that City Manager Mark Howe violated state labor laws by punishing city workers for joining a union.
He withheld a $1 an hour raise from one union member and, without city council approval, gave $1,000 bonuses to every city employee except those who had joined the union, according to the ruling issued by Judge Doyle O'Connor last week.
"It really hurts our morale when we see things like that. We have good, honest workers," said Union Steward Ralph Bracken, a city worker.
Howe also blocked union members from speaking at a city council meeting -- a First Amendment violation that
the judge said, quote: "Any American sixth grader should be able to spot."
Eight city workers -- from the water department, streets and parks, fleet maintenance and the cemetery -- joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in late 2011 and started negotiating with the city in January 2012.
But contracts talks have stalled.
"Right now, we're finding it difficult to bargain with him," Bracken said.
The judge said Howe testified "untruthfully" in a hearing and that he displayed "smugness." He recommended that MERC order the city to give the employee his raise, and give all union members the $1,000 bonus that everybody else got.
On Tuesday, Howe suggested the judge was biased because he was a former labor attorney. He also said the Lowell ruling was the last before the judge retired. "This was his last hurrah," Howe said.
He refused to discuss specifics, but said the city would appeal.
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