Archive for Friday, January 31, 1992

FIREFIGHTERS BACK LEGISLATION OPPOSED BY CITY COMMISSION

January 31, 1992

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— A Lawrence city commissioner and a Lawrence firefighter offered opposing views Thursday on a bill that would require cities to come under state regulations dealing with employer-employee relations.

Commissioner Bob Schulte told the Senate Labor, Industry and Small Business Committee that the city's current procedures in contract negotiations with employee groups offer more flexibility than those under the state's Public Employer-Employee Relations Act.

However, Bob Kent, a member of the Lawrence Local 1596 of the International Association of Firefighters, said the city's procedures are flawed and have caused "a great deal of turmoil" in firefighter and police negotiations in the past seven years.

Schulte and Kent were among several speakers who testified on the bill.

THOSE SUPPORTING the bill included the Kansas Association of Public Employees, the Kansas National Education Assn., a Shawnee Mission School District custodian and an employee for the Wichita Airport Authority.

Besides Schulte, opponents of the bill included the cities of Lenexa and Olathe, the Kansas League of Municipalities and the Home Builders Association of Kansas Inc.

The committee will hold more hearings and discussion on the bill next week.

The bill would specifically repeal the section of the PEER Act that allows cities the option of using their own procedures in dealing with employee groups.

Currently, 15 cities, eight counties and two school districts have decided to use the state regulations.

CITY OFFICIALS who opposed the bill said it would remove their power of home rule and force them into more cumbersome regulations.

But public employee groups argue that while state law gives teachers the right to elect their bargaining representatives, other public employees do not have that right. Forcing cities to use the state regulations would allow such pulic employees as secretaries, clerks and maintenance workers to negotiate for contracts, they said.

In opposing the bill, Schulte said cities should retain the right to use their own locally drafted procedures to deal with local public employees.

"There is no demonstrated need to now force Lawrence and other cities to abandon their current practices and follow state procedures which do not allow for local flexibility and cost taxpayers money through state administration of fact-finding and other required procedures under the PEER Act," Schulte said.

SCHULTE said the local procedure for meeting with employee groups has worked well.

But Kent disagreed.

"The procedures stack the cards against the employee groups," Kent said. "If the PEER Act had been in place, two costly lawsuits would not have been filed. If the city of Lawrence desires meaningful negotiations with their employees, as they say they do, then there is no good reason for not coming under the PEER Act."

The firefighters recently won a two-year legal battle with the city in conjunction with their 1989-90 work agreement.

Kent said the bill would "correct the flaws" in local negotiations procedures.

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