City of Lawrence Municipal Services and Operations employees file petition to unionize under the Teamsters; MSO would be city’s fourth employee union

Utility Department worker Tress Potter waves a vehicle through the work zone on 15th Street near the intersection with Summit Street, as other workers repair a water main in preparation for a repaving job.

City of Lawrence utilities and public works employees are seeking to unionize, potentially increasing the total number of unionized city employee groups to four.

Teamsters Local Union No. 696 announced in a news release Wednesday that the union had recently filed a petition with the City of Lawrence to conduct an election for the city’s Municipal Services and Operations Department. The department was created in 2018 following the merger of the city’s utilities and public works departments.

Dave Osborne, a utilities worker for the city, said in the release that support for unionization is “overwhelming” and that employees are excited about the upcoming election and prospective improvements.

“We are coming together to improve working conditions and secure better wages,” Osborne said. “We know that the Teamsters will give us the voice and strength to address the issues that matter most to us.”

Local 696 President Mike Scribner said in the release that MSO employees had seen the impact of unionization firsthand following the recent unionization of the city’s solid waste employees. As the Journal-World reported, the city approved close to $2 million in pay increases in July for the city’s three unionized employee groups, including about $650,000 for the newly unionized solid waste workers. The city ultimately approved $5 million total in raises for the city’s approximately 890 employees as part of its 2022 budget process.

The city’s three unionized employee groups are police officers, fire and medical personnel and solid waste workers. The MSO workers would be the second employee group to organize under the Teamsters Local Union No. 696.

The city’s solid waste workers voted to unionize under the Teamsters in August 2020. The petition to unionize came after the Teamsters initiated changes to the city’s resolution governing employee unions and the unionization process. Those changes included increasing the number of potential employee bargaining groups eligible to unionize from four to six and amending the voting threshold to unionize from 50% of all employees in a group to 50% of votes cast as long as more than half of the bargaining group votes, among other changes.

Matt Hall, secretary-treasurer and business agent for the Teamsters, told the commission at the time that the former requirements created barriers to unionization for city workers. He also said at the time that additional work groups were interested in unionizing, and details about those efforts would be publicized later in that process.

Under the city resolution governing unions, the employee organization must present a petition to the city clerk that is signed by at least 30% of the full-time employees in the group in order for an election to take place. The City Commission will then create a resolution setting the dates and times for the election, which must be convenient for the employees.


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