Lawrence City Commission to discuss changes to city union rules

photo by: Mike Yoder

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

Following a request from an area union, city leaders will soon consider potential changes to the city’s resolution governing employee unions.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive a staff report on Resolution No. 6817 and consider whether the resolution should be amended. Representatives of the area union Teamsters Local 696 have said a group of city employees was interested in unionizing but the resolution limits employees’ ability to do so.

The commission previously indicated that it was interested in discussing potential changes to the resolution but wanted to know how additional employee unions could affect city staffing needs and whether the city would need additional employees to manage a new union should one form. In a memo to the commission, City Manager Craig Owens said additional staff would indeed be needed and estimated it would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

“We have reached the threshold where additional staff in this area is necessary, particularly if the number of employee groups and agreements increases,” Owens said.

More specifically, Owens said it costs the city about $250,000 in staff time to negotiate and administer the contracts for the two existing employee unions, which cover police officers and fire and medical employees. He said should the number of employee unions increase, the city’s costs could increase by as much as $750,000 annually. The memo notes that those cost estimates do not include the costs associated with the employees representing the unions participating in contract negotiations or for overtime costs associated with backfilling those positions during negotiations.

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. In December, the Teamsters requested multiple changes, including changes related to the voting process for unionization and the division of employee groups for the purposes of unionization.

Regarding voting, in order to be represented by a union, 50% of all the employees in any one of four employee groups — not 50% of those employees who choose to vote — must agree to the union representation. Matt Hall, secretary-treasurer and business agent for Teamsters Local 696, previously told the commission that framework was not fair because it counted those who don’t vote as “no” votes. The union is proposing that the requirement be 50% of the employees who do vote. City staff proposes that the current rules be maintained.

The resolution divides city employees into four groups that could potentially unionize. In addition to police and fire and medical workers, 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 previously said that lumping employees into such large and diverse groups made it more difficult to unionize and proposed instead that employees be divided into 11 more specific groups. City staff proposes dividing employees into six groups instead.

If the commission decides to amend the resolution, city staff asks that the commission give staff direction on the proposed changes. Those potential changes will then be reviewed by police, fire and medical, and Teamsters union representatives and brought back to the commission at a later date for consideration.

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

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