Local Teamsters union leader to meet with Lawrence City Commission, says some city employees want to unionize

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016

City leaders will soon hear from an area union that would like the city to make changes to its local resolution governing employee unions.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive a report from Teamsters Local 696 regarding Resolution No. 6817, which the commission can amend at its discretion. Representatives of the union say there is a group of city employees interested in unionizing, but that resolution limits employees’ ability to do so.

In addition to laying out rules for contract negotiations with unions, the resolution has multiple steps that must be completed before a union is allowed to represent city employees. Matt Hall, secretary-treasurer and business agent for Teamsters Local 696, said that a group of city employees approached the union and an organizing campaign is underway.

Hall said a majority of workers in a certain unit of city work — he said the union was not yet publicly stating which workers at this time — have asked the union to represent them, but that the union does not think the requirements for unionizing in the city’s resolution are fair.

“There needs to be reform to the ordinance in order to allow workers that would like union representation to be able to vote if they want it or not,” Hall said. “That’s all we’re asking for is a vote, and a fair vote.”

More specifically, Hall said the union sees an issue with the division of city employees into only four groups. In addition to police and fire and medical, the other two employee groups that the resolution allows to unionize are “clerical, technical and administrative support personnel” and “service, maintenance and skilled labor.” Hall said the fourth group encompasses too many different departments, lumping together employees who don’t work together and who have completely different jobs and workplace issues.

Hall said the union also sees a problem with the voting requirements. In order to be represented by a union, 50% of all the employees in any one of the four group — not 50% of those employees who choose to vote — must agree to the union representation. Hall said that’s a high standard for an election, and that it should be 50% of the votes.

A memo from city staff to the commission states that Teamsters Local 696 requested the opportunity to address the City Commission regarding the resolution, but it does not make any other statements or recommendations. Commissioners are scheduled only to receive a report from the union as part of their study session Tuesday, but they could potentially direct staff to bring the topic back for discussion at a later date.

The resolution uses home rule to vary from the state statute governing public employee relations, and the introduction states in part that the governing body believes that the interests of both the City of Lawrence and its employees are best served by maintaining the two-party relationship of individual employee and employer. Currently, the only two groups of city employees that are represented by a union are police officers and fire and medical employees.

The resolution governing employee organizations has been changed several times over the years, the last amendment taking place in 2009, according to city records.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

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