by Brian Wright for Seward City News-
On Tuesday February 27th, City Council held a work session with the stated purpose to “discuss city employee eligibility for union” at the Seward Library Museum’s Community Room starting at 5:30 pm.
Before a full, but not crowded, room, topics related to the potential unionization of City of Seward Employees were opened for discussion, including which specific job positions would be eligible to join the collective bargaining unit, the preparation for and execution of an Employee Election to determine sufficient interest by eligible City employees, and the installation of the union should the vote indicate majority interest.
The work session packed stated that the Alaska Public Employees Association (APEA) was “already determined by consent” to be the appropriate bargaining representative. Established in 1955, APEA is the oldest Public Employees union in the state. In their mission statement, according to their website, APEA states they “will enhance the lives of our members and their families by practicing the highest professional and ethical standards and promoting social and economic well being in the workplace and our communities.”
To begin the work session, Seward Mayor David Squires orally reviewed a list of all city positions and opened discussion whether each job’s classification as either “supervisory” or “confidential” was appropriate and whether this should exclude the job from inclusion in the bargaining unit. On the initial list provided in the packet, any position defined as “supervisory” or “confidential” per its job description would not be eligible. Additionally, the codified definition of “supervisory” and “confidential” was supplied to department heads to confirm which subordinating positions matched these definitions.
Several citizens raised concerns regarding the classification of several positions, feeling they had been undeservedly labelled as “supervisory” or “confidential” and should not be deemed ineligible for inclusion in the bargaining unit.
The possibility of re-writing job descriptions to ensure certain positions were not performing occasional supervisory or confidential tasks was discussed. This could alleviate the potential for conflicts of interest regarding union membership. Potential statutory changes to the City’s definition of “supervisory” was also mentioned as a possibility.
A citizen suggested that everyone except department heads should be union eligible regardless of whether that have supervisory roles or not. This opinion was echoed by other citizens and several council members.
Citing the operational necessity of needing a second-in-charge in the event of absence or incapacitation of the department head, Council pursued the option that only department heads and these “seconds” would be ineligible for inclusion in the bargaining unit. It was decided that certain departments might require further discussion to determine which position qualified as its “second.”
More than one citizen voiced concerns that employees who opted not to join the union would still be forced to pay an agency fee. Council maintained that “as a body” they opposed requirements for employees who decided to opt out of union membership to pay agency fees.
A memo regarding the APEA membership fee structure was included in the work session packet. Monthly membership dues for a full-time employee (81+ hours per month) are $57.66, for a half-time membership (41-80 hours per month) are $38.36, and for one-quarter time (less than 40 hours per month) are $19.17. Additionally, the packet stated that the agency fee amount for 2016-2017 was $10.66.
A discussion of the Employee Election followed. The stated purpose of the Employee Election is to “indicate whether the majority of City employees are interested in having the option of union representation.” Discussion topics included the creation of election/canvas boards, the definition of “majority” (majority of votes cast or majority of eligible voters?), the period of absentee voting, specific ballot language and more.
No objections were raised to either the proposed ballot language or the two-week voting absentee period (which would conclude on the evening of election day).
Several citizens raised concerns over harassment/campaign pressure in the workplace. There was some discussion of existing laws regarding campaigning at polling places and at work. Council affirmed that the Employee Election would be conducted in the same manner and with the same integrity as any municipal election.
Lastly, the Council visited the steps necessary following a vote to join the union by members of the bargaining unit. These would include preliminary negotiations by the City Manager with APEA on a contract and submission of such a contract to Council for approval. Eligible members would then be given the option of opting in or out.
The work session concluded just before 9 pm.