Somerville Labor Coalition
Questionnaire for Political Endorsement of Candidates 2013
(Submitted in preparation for the SLC Sep 3, 2013 Candidate Forum)
Mark Niedergang, Candidate for Alderman, Ward 5
1. Do you fully support the process of collective bargaining and Civil Service Administration?
I support 100% the collective bargaining process and in my 7 ½ years on the School Committee, I have always supported collective bargaining agreements and funding for contracts. I believe that unions and working people deserve to be treated with respect and fairness at the bargaining table. As the Ward 5 School Committee member, I advocate for fair treatment of unions both publicly and in Executive Sessions. During my tenure, the School Committee has had positive relationships with the many unions that serve our schools.
In terms of the civil service system, I believe in playing by the rules. I know that there have been allegations that civil service rules have been bent at times. For example, the creation of a “reserve fire force” seemed to bypass the civil service regulations. I am against this and would speak out against it. I am independent and do not owe anyone anything, and I would never support favoritism or bending of civil service rules.
2. Have you ever been a member of a union? And in what prior public service, if any, have you participated?
I was a part-time teacher at SCALE (the Somerville Public Schools adult education program) for two years in the early 1990s, and I was a member of the SCALE Employees Union. I think that the SCALE employees are tremendously dedicated and do a terrific job. As a member of the School Committee, I supported the agreement for a three-year contract with that union in June, and I had a positive impact on those negotiations.
In terms of my public service, I have been a member of the Somerville School Committee representing Ward 5 for the past 7 ½ years. In the 1990s, I worked for 3 ½ years in the Somerville Police Department as the Grant Manager and Mayor’s Office of Human Services under Mayor Mike Capuano. I have served as a volunteer Board member of many community organizations, including the Somerville Community Corporation, of which I was President in 1998. When I was in my 20s, I worked with troubled youth at a number of camps, schools and institutions, and I also worked for a year as a night orderly at the Pine Street Inn, the shelter for homeless men in Boston.
3. How do you feel about protecting Retiree’s rights and benefits?
I believe in honoring those who have worked and served the City and retired, and in keeping agreements that the City has made with retirees.
4. What would an endorsement from the SLC mean to you?
While I believe I am in a strong position to win the election for Ward 5 Alderman on November 5th, an endorsement from the Somerville Labor Coalition would be a significant boost to my campaign. The SLC’s support for my candidacy would make many people in Ward 5 more likely to vote for me. Also, because I am a strong supporter of unions, the endorsement of a Coalition representing a half-dozen local Somerville unions would mean a great deal to me personally. My wife, Marya Axner, is the Director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee, and she spends a lot of time walking picket lines and advocating for workers who are fighting for their rights or for decent wages and benefits. Harris Gruman, the Massachusetts Political Director for SEIU, and a Ward 5 resident, is one of my closest advisors. Many people active in my campaign are union members or staff. I have already received the endorsements of the Carpenters Local 218 and the Piledrivers Local 56 and I hope to have several others soon as well.
5. How do you feel about outsourcing union positions? The trend in the city is to outsourcing to private contractors as an example, Custodial Services Street Sweeping and the Retirement Department. Do you oppose this or have a better solution? Police Chief taken out of Civil Service?
I am against outsourcing City union positions. As a City and as a society, we need to maintain decent jobs that pay a living wage for our workers. I believe in local hiring and giving preference to Somerville residents for local jobs. The people who do the work in our City that benefits the community should be part of our community. It is not right to get rid of employees who have worked for the City for years and outsource the work to a for-profit company whose workers are not part of our Somerville community. A private company is unlikely to treat employees as well as the City, and we have limited control over how they treat their workers. I did not agree with outsourcing the school custodians’ positions from the Winter Hill Community School and Somerville High School.
The question of whether the Chief of Police should be a Civil Service position or appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the Board of Aldermen is a completely different issue. I worked under three Chiefs of Police in the SPD in the 1990s and I saw up close how the SPD functioned under them. I support the change that Mayor Curtatone and the Board of Aldermen made to take the Chief’s position out of civil service. The civil service system of selecting Chiefs of Police based on test scores did not lead to strong and effective leadership for the SPD. The SPD has been a much stronger organization under Chiefs who were selected outside the civil service system. Sometimes – not always – an organization needs new leadership from outside. Sometimes the best candidate for the job is home grown. If it is close, I think it is always better to promote from within an organization. The Mayor of Somerville should have the option of a nationwide search to find the best candidate for Chief of Police and not be limited to choosing from the three internal candidates who score the highest on a standardized test. Sometimes the best person for the Chief’s job will be someone already working in the SPD; sometimes it will be someone from outside of Somerville.
6. What is your opinion of organized labor?
I am a strong supporter of public and private sector unions at all levels, city, state and federal. I believe that unions are important for workers and for our society as a whole, not only in the public sector, but in the private sector as well. I believe in collective bargaining, and I believe that every worker who wants to should be able to be a member of a union so that they can have full protection for their rights, decent wages, and decent working conditions.
7. If the city comes up to a budget shortfall, what would you do first to balance the municipal budget?
Let me first say what I would NOT do. I would not cut from public safety (fire or police or 911 dispatch) or from the Somerville Public Schools budget. These are essential services that we must maintain. If budget cuts are needed in the next few years, I would first look to make cuts in non-essential City services, particularly in the Mayor’s Communications Office and other management and administrative positions in City Hall.
8. Would you or have you ever crossed a picket line?
I have never crossed a picket line nor would I ever do so.