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Latest News - September 2010

September 13, 2010
Year-old union faces decertification fight in Lakewood
Source: The Bellingham Herald

Some Lakewood employees are pushing to decertify the city’s largest labor union, slightly more than a year after it was organized.

The employees say they are treated fairly by city management, doubt the union can protect jobs and are opposed to paying dues they maintain provide no benefit to them.

“I’m not opposed to unions,” said Rick Wade, property and evidence supervisor at the Lakewood Police Department. “I personally don’t feel I need a union. I can do my own representation. Why am I going to pay someone $50 a month to represent me when I don’t want them to?”

Terry Neumann, the city’s fleet maintenance coordinator, said between 15 and 20 signatures have been gathered to move the decertification process forward. Under state rules, the employees would need to collect more than 30 signatures to proceed to the next step that could lead to an election.

Union president Dan Penrose, a city planner, said he’s heard about the push for decertification and maintained that the new collective bargaining unit will provide a voice to employees in budget discussions. The union didn’t start negotiations until January and wasn’t involved in the discussions for this year’s budget.

“My hope is they would sit down and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re concerned about,’ and we could adjust our negotiation position to address their concerns. But they certainly have every right to attempt a decertification.”

The union drive began in the wake of deliberations for the 2009 budget, when Penrose said management proposals to increase the employee share of medical premiums, cut positions and reduce cost-of-living allowances were “balancing the budget on the backs of employees.”

More than 70 employees signed forms in support of forming the union, Penrose said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1938 was certified in July 2009 and represents 104 clerical, professional and technical employees. The city’s two other unions represent Lakewood police officers and community service officers.

Together, the three unions represent 203 of the city’s 240 full-time employees, said Jeff Brewster, a city spokesman. The city also contracts with the Lakewood Fire District, whose employees are represented by a union, for firefighting and emergency medical response.

Neumann said that during the union certification process, 42 employees signed a petition requesting that membership be voluntary, but the effort was unsuccessful. State rules prohibit a decertification election within 12 months of the union being certified.

Meanwhile, the union and management have been negotiating a new contract.

Penrose said the union’s proposal covers COLAs, wage, benefits and a notification process for layoffs, but he declined to provide specifics. He said the union is aware of the tight budget times facing the city and is not seeking anything exorbitant

Penrose, who sits on the union negotiating team, said he’s disappointed a new contract hasn’t been finalized this summer but noted that he doesn’t want to rush to meet an artificial deadline.

Several negotiating sessions scheduled for last week were canceled due to vacations and attention being diverted to drafting Lakewood’s proposed 2011 budget, Brewster said.

If a contract were in place, it could block a petition seeking decertification of the union, said Cathleen Callahan, executive director of the state Public Employment Relations Commission, which establishes collective bargaining units.



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