As of Jan. 1, City of Edmonds workers represented by Teamsters Local 763 still do not have a contract. Despite these workers having voted to accept the new contract with the city on Dec. 15, 2022, it has yet to come before the Edmonds City Council for ratification, leaving the workers confused, demoralized and feeling undervalued.
The union represents an estimated 70 City of Edmonds employees mostly in public works and parks department maintenance. These are the workers you see plowing snow-clogged streets, clearing and maintaining trails in various city parks, and performing an array of other tasks necessary to maintaining city property and equipment.
Until Jan. 1, 2023, these employees were working under the terms of a three-year contract that went into effect on January 1, 2018 and was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020. However, in January 2021, the city and the union agreed to extend the contract an addition year — to Dec.31, 2021 –noting the “current economic uncertainty and unknown business impacts because of the COVID pandemic” made it an unproductive time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
This extension expired on Jan.1, 2022, at which time the contract was up for renegotiation. State law provides for a “roll-over year” during which the provisions of the expired contract remain in effect for one year beyond the expiration date while the parties negotiate a new agreement (see RCW 41.56 Public Employees Collective Bargaining). Despite the workers signing the new contract on Dec. 15, 2022, the city council has not yet acted to ratify it. That allowed the roll-over year to expire on Jan. 1, leaving affected employees without a contract.
Does this mean these employees are left out in the cold without union protection/representation, or do they continue to be protected under the terms of the 2018 contract? The answer depends on who you talk to.
My Edmonds News spoke with a group of represented workers who asked to remain anonymous based on concerns about possible retaliation from the city. According to them, these protections ceased as of Jan. 1, which leaves them vulnerable.
“At this point we do not have a union contract and have no union representation,” said one. “The city could fire us at any time for any reason. A number of employees are taking sick leave or vacation time to not show up at work.”
But according to the city’s contracted collective bargaining negotiator Robert Braun, the protections remain in place and the fears of these employees are unfounded. Braun’s firm, the Braun Consulting Group, was hired to represent the city in the recent collective-bargaining negotiations because city Human Resources Director Jessica Neill-Hoyson was unavailable over the holidays.
In a series of Dec. 30 emails to the Edmonds City Council and Teamsters Local 763 representatives, Braun stated the following:
“As I believe you are now aware HR is, like most City employees, taking so [sic] well-deserved time off and I am replying for the city.
“As information that may be useful to the Council, there is some mistaken concept about the so called “one year standstill” rule. The truth is that the expired Labor Contract with your employees lives on until the now [sic] agreement is adopted by the city or an impasse occurs.
“Accordingly, the employees always remain protected by their agreement absent an impasse. Because there is a tentative agreement between the City and the Teamsters that PERC protection afforded to workers is strengthened. The one-year anniversary of the expiration has no adverse impact on your workers although the workers are sometimes confused about how it operates under the PERC [Washington State Public Employees Relations Commission].”
When shown these emails, a representative for the employees responded as follows:
“If those emails are true, I can’t speak on them as we have never seen or been told any of that not by the city not by HR. All we know is our contract is lapsed and in our contract it states a one-year roll over.”
For the employees we spoke with, the issue is larger than what they see as the city’s lack of action and attention to ratifying their contract. It’s about respect as individuals, about their work being valued, and about a city administration that — in their eyes –does not back them and is unresponsive to them, their issues and their needs.
“We signed the contract on Dec. 15,” explained one. “There was nothing additional we demanded. It was the contract that the city offered. We were pleased with the terms. As members we have nothing against this contract. It’s not us wanting more – it’s us wanting what the city proposed. We just want to get it ratified so we can get back to work and serve the citizens with the protection of a contract.”
“There is no reason for this to have taken so long,” remarked another. “They can do what they want to do – they’ve shown this before – but in this case they’re not doing it. It’s been in their hands for three weeks now. It’s demoralizing that we vote ‘yes’ and other issues that came up later – like cost-of-living raises for non-represented employees – get in front of council and our contract does not.” The worker was referring to the council’s Nov. 22 approval of a city’s human resources department proposal to provide 7% cost-of-living salary adjustments for Edmonds non-represented employees in 2023, along with 100% employer-paid health care premiums.
The nature of the jobs performed by union members does not allow the option of remote work that some city employees receive. These workers need to be present and physically able to do the job.
“The citizens treat us with respect,” added another. “When we’re out on the job plowing snow, clearing up downed trees and branches, even filling potholes, citizens will wave to us, say ‘thank you,’ and let us know they appreciate the job we do. But at the same time we’re feeling ignored, undervalued and disrespected by the city administration. When we try to contact the city we get voice mail and calls are not returned. It’s like they feel we don’t exist. It’s pretty demoralizing, and the city dragging its feet on our contract is just the latest example.”
City Council President Neil Tibbott and Councilmember Vivian Olson, who served as council president last year, say they are ready to ratify as soon as the contract comes before them.
“We’d like to see it come before council ASAP,” remarked Tibbott. “While much of the delay falls to the city administration, as soon as it comes our way we’ll act on it. From the council side I can say without reservation that we value our employees, and are especially grateful for their willingness to be on the job during difficult times like this winter.”
“The mayor told us this afternoon [Jan. 4] that the agreement will be on the Jan. 17 consent agenda,” said Olson. “I know there is some confusion and misinformation floating around about whether these employees continue to be protected under the terms of the 2018 contract, and I hope accurate word is getting to the workers so they don’t suffer any unnecessary stress over this situation.”
For the workers, putting their contract on a fast track would be a big step in restoring the respect they feel is their due.
“We’d like to see an emergency meeting to ratify this before Jan. 17,” said one. “This has been done hundreds of times before on other issues. We’ve done our job all through COVID, we’ve signed the contract that the city offered us, and we want to get back to work to serve the citizens. It’s time we’re shown the respect we’re due.”
The city’s human resources department has not responded to My Edmonds News’ attempts to contact them for this story.
— By Larry Vogel