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Goodbye to union?

City to pay $1,000 for election, city manager says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Several members of a group of Auburn city employees are hoping to say goodbye to their union after feeling like it’s letting them down in negotiations. Jon May, a building inspector for the city, and member of Local 39 Stationary Engineers, said he filed a decertification request with the city on Aug. 15. May said this will lead to a vote on Aug. 30, where seven out of the 13 total members would have to vote to disband the union for that to happen. May said about seven members including him have already expressed that they want the change to take place. “At this point the majority, it’s a slight majority but it’s a majority, are fed up again with the representation and filed to decertify,” May said. According to May, something similar happened about two years ago when the employees within the union said they would rather take the 10 percent cut in salary and benefits other city employees had taken than experience layoffs, but the union’s policy presented a different picture in negotiations. “We were basically like, ‘We will take the cuts rather than lose jobs,’” he said. “But the policy of the union is, ‘We are standing firm. We are not going to take a salary cut.’ It’s been very frustrating to see people lose jobs. That didn’t have to happen.” Four employees were laid off and a restructuring of several employees also took place, May said. At that time there were 25 more members in the union, and they wanted to get out, May said. According to City Manager Bob Richardson, these were Public Works employees and bus drivers. May said the union agreed to let these members go, and Richardson said the employees are now part of the Auburn Employees Association and negotiate directly with him, while maintaining legal advice on retainer in case it’s needed. After the negotiations two years ago, Richardson said he didn’t hear any official complaints from employees still in the Local 39 union. “I don’t recall any specific or official concerns, but I heard generally that there were some employees not in agreement with the direction of the board and the union,” Richardson said. May said during the most recent negotiations, the union also would not agree to a pay cut, and one more person was laid off. The negotiation process was finalized Aug. 8 when the City Council unanimously voted to approve the “implementation of the last, best and final offer with Stationary Engineers, Local 39,” an item on the meeting’s consent calendar. “I wasn’t in the room (during negotiations), but the policy of the union is we are not taking cuts,” May said. “It has been in the past and they didn’t want to take them this time either. We ended up taking a pay cut anyway. (The City Council) implemented it. So, we are working without a contract because the union didn’t sign that contract. That’s an imposed contract.” Richardson said the cut matches up with the 10 percent cuts other city employees and representatives, including him and the City Council members, have taken. May said he doesn’t have a problem with the city, although he doesn’t have any way of knowing if the city were to do something employees wouldn’t like, because they haven’t been able to negotiate for themselves. “When you feel like you don’t have any say and people are negotiating for your pay, and your salary and your livelihood, it’s like, ‘This doesn’t work,’” he said. “‘Why is someone negotiating for me?’” Richardson said the city is not directly involved in this process, but it would have to pay $1,000 for the election to take place. “In this process we really are a third party, but it’s always important for us to know that our employees are comfortable with their representation to facilitate good employee, employer relations,” Richardson said. May said if the majority of the Local 39 members do vote to decertify it, they might look into having an independent legal firm represent them. May said previous researched show this would cost about $30 a month, and members pay around $50 a month for Local 39 representation. May said it’s also possible that the union could let go of those members who don’t want its representation any more, like it did two years ago. Multiple attempts to reach Local 39 representatives were unsuccessful. Some local residents also shared their opinions about unions Friday. Pam, a Foresthill resident who preferred only to give her first name, said she doesn’t feel unions are necessary anymore. “I don’t think they are needed anymore,” she said. “Mostly at the time when they first started I think people weren’t willing to speak up for what they wanted on their own.” Auburn resident Elton Dutton said he has mixed feelings about unions. “The unions are good in some places and bad in others, no doubt about it — kind of like anything,” Dutton said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com