Edmonds workers frustrated as city delays ratification of Teamsters contract

Plowing city streets during snow events is one of the jobs performed by Teamsters Local 763 workers. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

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

  1. Seems nothing goes smoothly with this mayor and his administration. This is just another good reason not to support mayor Nelson for reelection.

  2. Giving non-union staff raises during union negotiations that are considered higher packages than union represented staff is considered union busting..
    three of the city councilmembers have been on the council prior and currently long enough to know that this is considered disintegration of the Union.
    Shame on the council for approving, non-represented wages before negotiations were completed. Finger-pointing at everybody else doesn’t help either.

  3. Why would MyEdmondsNews.com fail to contact Teamsters Local 763 for comment on this story? This is the second time you’ve run a story about Teamster members without seeking comment from the Union. As a Business Agent for Teamsters Local 763, we reached a tentative agreement with the City and ratified it on Dec. 15. The “delay” is unremarkable considering we voted just before the holidays, when many people, including our members, take vacation to spend time with their families. As usual, after we ratify a contract it goes to City Council for approval, then the parties sign the agreement. We are confident this will happen before the end of January. Our members will suffer no losses in pay, benefits or protections because the contract is retroactive. Teamsters take pride in their work for City residents. The new contract shows that the City values Teamster members and the excellent service they provide. Together, we make an Edmonds kind of day possible.

    1. Thank you for your comment. A lot of thoughtful discussion has happened, on both sides of the table, through this process. Could the timing have been accelerated? I doubt it, as both parties are satisfied with the results. The final approval should happen before the end of January, as you have mentioned.

  4. City Code requires the City Council President to formulate and prepare the agenda for city council meetings.

    An email from City Council President Pro Tem Vivian Olson dated January 2, 2023 informed me of the following:

    “Only the Mayor sees the agenda packet in its entirety before it is published.”

    “Council president is responsible for the contents of the council-initiated agenda items (whether or not he or she sees them-so the CP should see them when the involved CMs and council executive assistant are done!).”

    “The CP is not responsible for and doesn’t ever see the other department’s agenda items; besides approving the topic for inclusion on the agenda and being aware of things previewed at council committees, no one on council has detailed advance knowledge of the contents of the agenda memo until the packet is received.”

    My question: Does Edmonds City government’s current agenda preparation practice comply with City Code?

    As for calling for a meeting to ratify, a special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the governing body of a public agency or by a majority of the members of the governing body.

    This can be done this weekend.

  5. It sounds like there is a huge failure to communicate between different departments and organizations in this city which could have prevented all this mess and would have given the folks that serve this city a feeling of respect and dignity. This is a pathetic breakdown at every level that’s left the city workers feeling vulnerable.

  6. It is represented in the article that a number of employees are taking sick leave or vacation time to not show up at work.

    I hope City Council chooses to meet this weekend to ratify. Please put our valuable employees at ease and please show that we are grateful.

    Council has met on a weekend before, for example Sunday March 22, 2020.

  7. We could obviously use less visioning and manipulating public opinion and more just getting the nuts and bolts of running a city and city services tightened and functional. Just too much silly business and petty politicking here and not enough good old get the job done elbow grease. Seems like some of our white collar public servants view it as sort of an occupational country club; getting all upset if the questions by the Council get too tough on them in their view.

  8. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that this event is caught up in politics. From the perspective of a union representative, which I am, Edmonds has gone above and beyond what most employers did during the pandemic. Edmonds paid premium pay during part of the COVID lockdown to reward employees based on the percentage of time working on site. The City Council, at the Administration’s recommendation, extended the 80 hours of paid COVID leave after the federal leave program expired. The Mayor and the Administration then brought forward a proposal to give additional vacation hours and money to employees based on percentage of time spent working on site. Edmonds has been a leader in responding to the pandemic, starting March 6, 2020 when Mayor Nelson declared an emergency. Plus, the City Council passed a premium pay ordinance for grocery workers. When the Council meets on Jan. 17, I am confident the new contract with Teamsters Local 763 will be approved. Until then, our members will stay on task, providing residents with the same great service in all the departments they work. Happy new year to everyone in Edmonds! We are lucky to live here.

    1. Liz it is sure nice to hear how well the city took care of its employees and grocery workers. How much relief did they give the taxpayers? My taxes have gone up each year and as a low income citizen of Edmonds I find it appalling that so much was spent supporting them and so little consideration paid to the rest. For example the covid relief program that in the first year I got no response the second year someone on here told me to check my spam mail where I found it but by that time I had already taken from my small retirement account which I have to pay back but probably put me over the threshold this year I applied again and kept a close lookout and recieved a response and a follow up where I signed a e document. I was thinking I would receive more info like where to send required info but it never came so I reached out before Thanksgiving and got a out of office until after the holiday response I got no response so I again left a voice mail in early December 1 of 2

    2. I again got no response then a few days before Christmas I sent another email and got another out of the office until after the holiday I did get a I will look into it response but here it is the 6th of January and still no details. So frankly for the city and people that think the city is so great I have a 4 letter word followed by a three letter word. Note if the grocery premium is a example of what city workers got 2 months of that premium would be more than the maximum of help the poor would get if they could even get help. This city has no care for its citizens you know the ones that pay their wages and I for one pay more than my fair share 25% just in property taxes.

  9. Yes, most of us peons are getting a little tired of paying the the freight for well paid public employees and elected officials whimpering over next to nothing in jobs with pay and benefits most of us could only dream of in our work lives past and present. There are exceptions to my comments. Our part time Council People should be given more pay and more credit for all they do. Even the ones I often disagree with here. They are trying hard in a very flawed system of one sided government. Same goes for our police and fire personnel who do their best to keep us all safe and from harming ourselves in too many cases. They very much deserve great pay and great respect.

  10. WOW! What disrespect!!

    Sounds like the Business Agent is actually working for the city instead of the workers who pay her salary with dues. Makes you wonder what kind of kickback she is receiving and why these workers continue paying dues.

    Im sure “most” of these union members were actually at work before, during and after the holidays working around the clock to keep the city streets free of snow, ice, trees, branches, etc. Followed by flooding and plugged storm drains. These workers are what keeps the city operating and moving. To say the delay of getting their contract in front of the council is “unremarkable” and an absolute slap in the face to these essential workers.
    They agreed to and voted for the contract the city sent them back in mid-December. It NEVER should have come down to the last month to get a contract signed, much less on a year extension the workers had given the city. These workers are going to be pushed to a higher tax bracket receiving their retro pay in 2023 and the ones waiting to retire until receiving their owed retro will be affected for life on their monthly retirement benefits.

  11. A four letter word followed by a 3 letter word. My apologies.
    But it chaps my hide when I hear about the thousands of extra dollars paid to city employees for covid and the people that pay their wages get a few crumbs if they are lucky I am still waiting for mine. The mayor cries from the rooftops about equity, how is this equitable? What this shows is privilege for the few. And disregard for the many.

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