HIGH SPRINGS – Employees at the City of High Springs have voted to be represented in future employee/employer negotiations by a union. The full and part-time non-professional, non-supervisory employees chose the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, one of the largest national trade unions in the country
The High Springs Police Department which is currently represented by their own union, the High Springs Fire Department, the charter officers and commissioners are not included in the move to unionize municipal employees.
City officials say they have not received any paperwork from the union. They did, however, receive a tally of employee ballots in mid-June which indicated that of the 14 eligible voters in the proposed unionizing group, nine ballots were returned. All nine voted to join the union.
The city has not yet entered into any type of negotiations with the union. City Manager Ed Booth expects to meet with a union representative within the next two weeks to discuss initial contract negotiations and establish how the union will be set up. “At this time, I don’t believe a union steward has been elected and our employees have paid no union dues. I would imagine those items will be discussed at our upcoming meeting.”
Union representatives could not be reached to comment on the procedure of setting up or joining a union.
However, the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC), the government group that oversees unions in Florida, offered information about the unionization process. PERC’s General Council Steve Meck went through the entire process step-by-step.
“All unions must be certified by PERC,” he said. “The process begins formally when the union files a representation petition with our office.” That appears to have happened in mid-February in this case, according to PERC’s records.
“A union can include or exclude the positions within the unit,” he said. “A unit can be wall-to-wall, which would include all employees. They can form a white collar unit or they can form a blue collar unit. Managerial and/or confidential employees are excluded from collective bargaining rights under Florida statutes,” said Meck. He listed “confidential employees” as someone who may assist a business’s president, for instance.
The petition to form a union was found sufficient to go forward Feb. 21, 2013, said Barry Dunn, PERC representative. “At that time,” said Meck, “a hearing officer is assigned to the case.”
A consent election was filed March 19, in which all parties filed joint factual stipulations indicating their agreement to form a union consisting of the employee positions listed. April 3, a hearing officer recommended the order after reviewing the stipulations and analyzing it. April 25, PERC’s chair and two-person commission approved the consent election agreement and directed that an election be conducted. At that time the case was transferred to their election division to conduct the election.
The Notice of Election went out May 3 to the employees eligible to vote in this case, Dunn said. PERC’s commission issued an order verifying the election results July 3, 2013.
“A serious showing of interest is about 30 percent of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit,” explained Meck. “Each employee must sign and personally date a statement expressing a desire to be represented by the union or to hold an election to determine if there are 30 percent of the employees who wish to form a union.”
The process is usually fairly quick if there are no problems or disputes, Meck said. “A period of two-and-a-half months may be all it takes to form a union. However, if disputes arise or the group is unusually large, it could take six months, at most, to resolve."
While employees have loosely discussed forming a union for the past few years, it is believed by some that the recent push to move forward with those plans was likely propelled by the decision of the previous city commission to balance the budget in part by reducing employee salaries by 6.7 percent and by withdrawal of budget funding for positions some commissioners wanted to see eliminated.
“Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure,” said local attorney Linda Rice Chapman. “Had my client, Christian Popoli, been represented by a union at the time he was wrongfully terminated from his position with the city, arbitration, instead of a costly legal suit, would have provided him with an additional remedy. It is a lot cheaper to file a grievance than to file a lawsuit,” she said.
According to the AFSCME website, “AFSCME is the nation’s largest and fastest growing public services employees union with more than 1.6 million working and retired members.” In addition, AFSCME boasts “approximately 3,400 local unions and 58 councils and affiliates in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”
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