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What’s in a union?

Police, fire open up about how talks work
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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While members of one city employee union are considering whether or not to say goodbye to their current representation, others say they are happy with the groups they have. The 13 members of Local 39 Stationary Engineers in the city of Auburn are currently considering whether to decertify their union, and some members believe their Local 39 representatives are not working toward the desires of the union’s members. This week public safety city employees gave their opinions about unions and described their own representation. Police sergeants The Auburn Police Department has two groups of negotiating bodies: The Auburn Police Officers Association and The Auburn Police Sergeants Association. City Attorney Michael Colantuono said there is no precise way to describe the difference between the words union and association. What really matters is if either is affiliated with a larger bargaining group or not, he said. Sgt. Michael Garlock said the police sergeants are not affiliated with a larger union and do not pay a firm to represent members during negotiations with the city. “We are not represented by any firms, we negotiate ourselves,” Garlock said. “Nothing is approved without the City Council’s approval. We negotiate directly with the city manager and the finance director, but anything that needs to be finalized needs City Council approval.” Garlock said this doesn’t change how negotiations take place. “It would be like any standard negotiating type environment,” Garlock said. “You present a list of changes or ideas and then they will obviously come back with what they would like to see, or what they are able to basically do. Then you keep working until you come up with a compromise and come up with a solution.” There are six people in the association, and they don’t pay dues currently, Garlock said. “At this point … we do not have anything for dues taken out of our checks,” he said. “We pay for our own legal defense and long-term disability plans out of our own pocket, so that’s why we don’t really require the dues. We decided we would pay our own additional benefits, legal defense and long-term disability on our own, or additional life insurance and things of that nature.” Garlock said he believes this type of union makes negotiations easier. “In my opinion, because I have sat in on a negotiation in both aspects, it’s much easier to negotiate directly with the city manager and the finance director,” he said. “I have to admit from when I have negotiated using a third party, the communication was more difficult.” Police officers The Auburn Police Officers Association is a 501(c)(3) organization as well as a collective bargaining unit, according to Officer Stan Hamelin, vice president of the association’s board. Hamelin said the association is not affiliated with a larger union, but does hire a private negotiator to sit with them in contract talks. “That’s pretty much their forte is they know the rules of the game, and you just cut right through the emotional aspect of things, and you get right down to business,” Hamelin said. “It also gives a better understanding of each side’s needs and resources.” There are 16 members in the association and dues are about $20 a month, Hamelin said. Hamelin said officers also pay for legal defense and officers can purchase things like long-term disability and additional health insurance. As a 501(c)(3) the association also does a lot of work with charities and participates at events around Auburn, such as Placer High School end of the year festivities, Hamelin said. Hamelin said all members of the union seem pretty pleased with how it is set up. “I can tell you right now you will not find one member in our union that would rather be not a member of the union,” he said. “There is no other form of union that they would rather have.” Officer Ian Ackard said he used to be on the association’s board, but once he got off it he didn’t think much about it anymore. “If I need it, it’s definitely there for me,” Ackard said. “The city doesn’t have the money to give us what we need and want, but they are doing the best they can. And we are doing the best we can and we are trying to come to the middle. Some things we need can’t be given because of money.” Fire fighters Auburn city fire fighters belong to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4110, which is affiliated with the larger International Association of Fire Fighters union, according to Capt. Corey Zander, president of Local 4110. Zander said all 10 full-time employees in the department are currently in the union. Zander said although it is affiliated with IAFF, Local 4110 members hire a private negotiator to represent them. “The difference is in my union every different group bargains their own contract,” Zander said. “We get recommendations from the big union, but it’s not like Local 39 where they assign a guy who is going to represent you and decides what you are going to take and what you are not going to take. We kind of control our own our destiny so to speak. I think ultimately for us what we have right now works. We’ll leave it at that.” Zander said the union’s most recent negotiations went better than they have in the last five years. Zander said the union does take dues out of its members’ checks every month, but he declined to say how much. Zander said he thinks Local 4110 is needed for the members it represents. “The union represents all its members fairly and equally,” he said. “It helps protect our working conditions, salaries and benefits. It represents the members for grievances and any disciplinary actions that may occur.” Thoughts about unions With some holding anti-union feelings, several members of Auburn’s public safety associations said they are still necessary. When asked what he thinks about Local 39’s current situation, Garlock said he doesn’t think about it. He also said he thinks everyone is allowed to have their opinions about unions. “Personally I really don’t get involved in other union issues,” he said. “I don’t even worry about that. Like I always usually say, with anything some people are going to be for unions or associations and some people aren’t, and there is nothing I can do about that. Everybody is entitled to their opinions and beliefs and that is how I usually leave it.” Garlock said his time in the sergeants union and dealing with the city during negotiations has been nothing but positive and fair. Sgt. Gary Hopping, a member of the police sergeant’s association, said he can understand the anti-union sentiments that some have, but he thinks unions are usually needed in some form. Hopping said he thinks unions sometimes take away the opportunity for individual achievement because everyone is being treated equally. Zander said he has an opinion about those who speak negatively about unions. “They have never worked for a union then, or they were in a union that didn’t represent them,” he said. “If you are in a union, and it’s so big and you don’t have any say in there of course you’re not going to (like it) because they are not doing what’s best for you as an individual.” Zander said it’s difficult to compare groups like the fire fighters union to others like Local 39. “It’s kind of comparing apples to oranges,” he said. Auburn resident Julanne Brown said she thinks while unions aren’t always right, they are still needed. “Yes, I think unions are still valuable, or serve a purpose in representing the workers in that trade or profession,” Brown said. “I very much believe in their ability to help represent members in that group. If we didn’t have unions, a lot of the things we take for granted, like work hours and basic safety, would be lost.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com