At least 100 people gathered outside City Hall Monday night protest the negotiations between the city and the union representing city employees.
Union members and supporters said the city has removed items like hours of work, longevity pay, seniority, overtime pay and grievance procedures from contracts and placed those issues in a nonbinding employee handbook. Members of the Western Iowa Labor Federation, organisers of the rally, and union leaders argue those items — often referred to as permissive or permissible subjects — should remain in the contract.
In February 2017, the Iowa Legislature passed a law that stripped public employees — except for public safety workers — of most collective bargaining rights, except for the right to negotiate salaries.
The Communications Workers of America is representing city employees in the negotiations.
Among the departments the CWA represents are civilian personnel with the Police and Fire Departments, the City Clerk Department, Recycling Center, some Public Works employees and Animal Control.
“We need the City Council not to be the city’s union-busting force,” Scott Punteney, field coordinator with the Western Iowa Labor Federation and the newly-elected chairman of the Pottawattamie County Democratic Party, told the crowd from the west side steps of City Hall.
Police blocked off Pearl Street at Willow Avenue, allowing the gathered to congregate in the street. Speakers called for action to improve the contract negotiations.
“It’s not a wage issue. People think it’s a wage issue. This is about dignity and respect,” Punteney told The Nonpareil before the protest. “The city wants to put it in a handbook. A handbook is not legally binding — it can be changed, altered or deleted at any point without employee input.
“Knowing they still have a vacation, time off with a sick child, know when they’re supposed to report to work, the right hours of work — these things are important,” Punteney said.
Punteney said the city employees are only asking for items already in their contract. Jeff Shudak, another member of the Labor Federation, said, “They’re making these promises. ‘I promise we’ll take care of employees, trust us.’”
“If you’re going to take care of these employees — it doesn’t cost anything to put it in the contract they already have,” Shudak said. “This whole thing is union busting, that’s all that this is. Plain and simple. There is no other explanation. That’s what this legislation from last year has created.”
Before a strategy session with the council regarding the union contract after the council’s Monday afternoon study session, city Human Resources Director Jon Finnegan said he couldn’t discuss details of the ongoing negotiation.
“We are bargaining in good faith,” Finnegan said. “And they are as well.”
Bonnie Winther with Communications Workers of America is part of the negotiations with the city. Asked if both sides are working in good faith, she said “Yes.”