Labor Negotiations Process Undergoes Scrutiny

Originally posted Mar 16, 2014

By CAROLYN DRYER, Editor

  AFSCME President Walter Crenshaw is flanked by members Erik McMorrow and Juan Alvarez as they look over the recommendations set forth by the city’s labor task force. (Photo by Carolyn Dryer)

AFSCME President Walter Crenshaw is flanked by members Erik McMorrow and Juan Alvarez as they look over the recommendations set forth by the city’s labor task force. (Photo by Carolyn Dryer)

Workers come and go, and so do administrators at the department level. The City of Peoria has had three different human resources directors in the past six years. The one who heads the department at the present time is Julie Ayers, who held the same position in Prescott before coming to Peoria.

Last year was a tough one for all parties. Negotiations with the fire and police departments lasted approximately six months, while AFSCME negotiations headed straight into fall before an agreement was finally reached.

Ayers reviewed the lengthy process during a presentation to city council in a Feb. 25 study session. She brought a labor task force list of recommended changes to the city code designed to make negotiations go smoother next year. Any changes, it should be noted, must be approved by council.

One of the recommendations that came out of the task force review was to revise the city code to allow labor organizations and city management to present their initial proposals to city council when negotiations begin. If there are issues that remain unresolved when the negotiations deadline arrives, the employee organizations and management present their case to city council.

The labor task force, in its recommendation, affirms the duty of the city manager (and designees) as a direct appointee and agent of city council, to confer with city council during the negotiation period in executive session.

Regarding the issue of the long negotiation process that taxed city resources and went past the budget deadline last year, the task force came up with other recommendations regarding deadlines for key phases of the meet and confer process. Specific deadlines, limiting the number of members of negotiating teams to a maximum of four each, and allowing each side to bring in subject matter experts to the table for specific issues was also a recommendation.

It was also recommended that a city-paid neutral facilitator be utilized to improve communication and increase process efficiency.

A workflow chart was presented to council that laid out the deadlines for each part of the negotiation process.

Proposed Labor Negotiations Workflow

9/1: Labor request

9/15: Manager response

10/?: Council presentation

Within 10 days: Negotiate at table

12/15: Negotiations at table end. If no agreement, may request mediation. If no mediation, goes to council as indicated in next step.

2/7: If no agreement, management and labor each present to council on unresolved issues. Council direction results in proposed memorandum of understanding. MOU sent to labor for consideration. If labor ratifies, council to consider MOU. If labor does not ratify, council will take action in the public interest resulting in work rules.

And if there are employees who do not want an employee organization representing them, city code already includes a provision for decertification of any employee organization. Employees in a represented classification can bring the issue to an election by filing a petition containing the signatures of more than 50 percent of the employees in that group.

The labor task force recommended the city code be revised to include a process for adjudicating allegations of city code violations relating to unfair labor practices. Complaints would be filed with the city clerk’s office, and then would be referred to an administrative hearing officer. One strike of a hearing officer would be allowed. If an allegation is upheld by the hearing officer, the party in violation would be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $500 as determined by the hearing officer. The hearing officer’s decision would be final.

A code recommendation by the labor task force also would revise city code to clarify the roles of the vari9ous participants in the meet and confer process.

A process recommendation by the labor task force was to have the human resources department create a labor relations section on its website and post periodic neutral updates about the status of negotiations.

A labor relations specialist from the human resources department will lead negotiations with employee organizations on behalf of the city manager.

The entire list of recommendations were discussed by council and it was a consensus that Ayers and the task force bring the recommendations forth to a future council meeting.

Following the study session agenda item conclusion, a small group of AFSCME members gathered in front of council chambers to discuss the meaning of the recommendations.

One member, who remained unidentified, was still bitter following the end of negotiations last year, saying, “Fire and PPOA got a better deal. We’re looked upon as ditch diggers.”

He walked off, and other AFSCME members said the remark referred to the fact that most AFSCME members are technical people or those who do manual labor for the city.

The new president of Peoria’s chapter of AFSCME is Walter Crenshaw, who was elected to replace Randy Cordero, who died just two months ago. Crenshaw is a water meter tech II for the city. Others who were discussing the new labor negotiation process with Crenshaw were Erik McMorrow, building inspector II, and Juan Alvarez, who is a park maintenance worker in the neighborhood parks division in the community services department.

http://www.peoriatimes.com/news/article_e600d026-9fd9-11e3-b5be-0019bb2963f4.html