City of Edmonds’ largest union rejects contract offer; mediation likely

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Workers at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. (Photo courtesy City of Edmonds website)

Mediation is the likely next step after the City of Edmonds’ largest labor union earlier this week overwhelmingly rejected the city’s latest contract offer.

Teamsters Local 763 represents 66 city employees who work at the wastewater treatment plant, and in jobs related to water, sewer, streets, stormwater, parks and facilities, said Liz Brown, the local’s business agent.

Representatives from the union and the city have been bargaining since September for a new agreement to replace the three-year contract that expired on Dec. 31, 2017, said Brown, who described the negotiations as “very difficult.” Among the sticking points: health care benefits, wages and job-bidding language.

Members rejected the contract by a vote of 47-3 on Jan. 31, Brown said. (A reason for the discrepancy in numbers of union members vs. those casting ballots is related to the requirement that members must be present to vote, so those on vacation or out sick aren’t counted.)

City of Edmonds Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie said the city, which has a total of 220 employees, “has been bargaining in good faith” with Local 763 to reach an agreement, and will continue to do so. Hardie added that both parties are considering mediation through the Washington State Public Employees Relations Commission.

“We look forward to coming to an agreement on this contract,” Hardie said.

According to Brown, Local 763’s membership ranges from seasonal laborers to employees who are required to maintain commercial drivers licenses and hold certifications necessary to perform certain work, such as operating the wastewater treatment plant.

Edmonds’ wastewater plant is one of only five in the state that incinerate the solid material generated during the treatment process. “Our members take great pains to keep that incinerator in compliance,” Brown said.

The union is concerned that the city’s new health care plan has fewer benefits and increased out-of-pocket costs, Brown said, adding that “this is a big issue not just for us but for the entire city.” The union also disagrees with a city proposal to eliminate language that ties wage increases to the Consumer Price Index, and opposes elimination of job-bidding language which has allowed local members to be considered first if they wanted to apply for a different job in the same bargaining unit.

According to Brown, the city has a five-step wage range, with the average hourly rate for entry-level employees set at $23.69 an hour, scaling to a top step of $28.86 an hour.

Hardie said that employee health insurance benefits continue to shift with increasing costs and plan changes nationwide. The city’s health insurance consortium, the Association of Washington Cities, decided to terminate — as of Jan. 1, 2018 — the two health insurance plans that all consortium members were covered under. To avoid interruption of coverage for Edmonds employees, the city transitioned to a new plan Jan. 1, but the change has been a topic of negotiations with all four of the city’s unions.

“We are pleased that we have been able to come to an agreement on the health insurance matter with both our EPOA (commissioned police officers) through the negotiations process and have a contract for council final approval for EPOA Law Support (non-commissioned police staff) that addresses the health insurance plan change,” Hardie said in an email.

While the union recognizes that the need to change health plans wasn’t the city’s fault, “we think the city needs to do more to address increased costs to employees,” Brown said.

“When the Great Recession came, our members were the first to step up and take unpaid furlough time,” Brown said, referring to the nine unpaid furlough days taken in 2009 by both represented and non-represented City of Edmonds employees to ensure uninterrupted city services.

“It was a tough decision but our members showed a lot of leadership,” Brown added. “We were willing to take hits when times were bad, and times aren’t bad right now.”

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. Everyone “takes a hit” when times are bad. 9 unpaid furlough days from 10 years ago are the sacrafice mentioning? There’s difference between union and Union in this regard. All of our healthcare costs have gone up after the ACA. Most of us have had stagnant wages with little or no means to negotiate. Times aren’t good right now, despite the point being made.




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    • Excellent comments, Matthew.I spent my career in the private sector and had to endure several recessions. It was customary during those tough times to have to endure a number of unpaid days and to also have to work those unpaid days.




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    • ACA ? Just thinking that all of our healthcare costs have gone up since barbers and bloodletting. Contract-wise I hope they can come to terms soon.




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  2. C’mom…The AMA is not a trade union as John Goodman writes in your second link. Also, he states that nationwide union membership has dropped from a high of 30% in the ’50’s to 11% today. I would characterize the AMA as one of the the most successful lobbying groups in America.




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    • That’s what Trade/Labor Unions are; lobbying groups. Labor Unions collect dues and lobby for benefits, often they wrestle control of public sector institutions were consumers aren’t offered alternatives (in this case the water company). Remember for a moment that white collar people unionize too; Trade Unions (sometimes called associations, groups, organizations) collect dues, and wrestle control of licencing and accreditation schemes by lobbying. The Teachers Union and the National Associate of Realtors are both Unions and both maintain an army of K Street lobbyists. The early 20th Century was the heyday of Trade Unions. Industries were very afraid of reducing prices due to competition. So Unions (capital U) campaigned for standard products, standard work weeks, set prices, set wages, etc, then used licencing and accreditation schemes in order to prevent competition from more efficient enterprises.

      If you google “Henry Ford fight against the Trade Union”, then go a few pages beyond the nonsense of how Detroit is such a great place now because of the Labor Unions, you’ll find Ford’s real fight against the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) (a Trade Union), which was the fight for the right to build the Model T. Ford had to actually prove his car was horrible before the Unions would give him permission to build one.
      https://fee.org/articles/how-henry-ford-zapped-a-licensing-monopoly/

      Today getting permission from a Union to practice sounds absurd, but that is the exact scheme the American Medical Association presides over. Here’s a good read on the mechanics behind how Unions work:
      https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3288&context=lcp




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      • We have a different interpretation of the term, “labor union”. In my view, labor unions, first and foremost, represent their members to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions with their employer. And the union collects dues from its members to pay for representation. Lobbying is secondary, but is considered to be important, and essential, to its membership. With the preceding perspective, I view The National Association of Realtors as a lobbying organizations, but not a union, since its members are “independent contractors” and the NAR does not negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions for its membership.




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        • The NAR certainly does negotiate benefits and working conditions for its members. If not for the NAR, most realtors would be working some other job, but I understand your distinction (well said). Trade Unions, Labor Unions, lobbying organizations, the means and the ends are the same. They all collect dues and lobby their employer (which is often taxpayers) for terms that favor them. The right to assemble in any union is a Constitutional right of association. My immediate family is a family of teamsters. I’m a dues paying member of two trade unions in aviation by choice. The capital U is awarded when coercion through the government is used to prevent competition from scabs or nurse practitioners. This coercion is a main reason why healthcare is so expensive. Boeing moved a lot of work to South Carolina to escape market coercion.

          https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeings-south-carolina-workers-resoundingly-defeat-union/




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  3. Whatever we call the AMA and other professional organizations touching health care they can and do try to control how health care is delivered and by whom. The terms may not be absolutely correct but you will get the concept. Delivery of medical services range form Doctors, Physicians Assistance, various nursing levels. These organizations control who can do what. Dentists and lessor trained dentist assistant can do some of the same things but the professional groups tend to limit who can do what. Certified teachers and para educators can help educate kids but these professional groups can control who does what. The point being made is these types of cost are going up and one of the causes in the definition of who can do what.




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    • Good points. I’d add that because of accreditation schemes created by Unions, nurses don’t become doctors very often, and dental hygienists don’t become dentists very often, even though those professions are ideal apprentice positions for the latter. Unions tend to keep people in their lane once they control the velvet rope. The hospitals told my wife and I that having a child was dangerous. The gouged us on costs. For $2400 we were able to hire two midwives (Nurse Practitioners), we got all our prenatal care, and even birthing classes. We had two great home births. The AMA Union is very against Nurse Partitioning.




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  4. I am glad that the city has taken steps to rein in costs. We should not accept the rise in health costs. Being transparent about actual costs would be one way. The cost of health care is part of the reason for stagnation in take home pay. Amazon and its two partners may come up with ideas for better health care for lower cost. I have read my son Dave’s book about health care so I am aware of all the ways health care has become expensive and hard to navigate. Being complicated is a great way to hide the true cost of health care. Hospitals and steep overhead, benefits professionals and health insurance professionals – all have worked together to up costs. We need to be more informed. Ignorance costs us.




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