It couldn’t be closer: Palm Coast government’s blue-collar workers in its utilities, public works and other departments voted on Thursday 73-72 to retain the union they originally voted for in July 2014 by a wider margin.
“We prevailed. They’re going to appeal, I’m sure,” Ron Burris, the union’s chief negotiator, said. “I don’t know how PERC would rule that we’d have to have another election.” PERC is the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission. The employees are organized through the Laborers International Union of North America, Northeast Florida Public Employees’ Local 630.
In 2014, fewer employees participated in the vote but approved the union by a more decisive margin of 67-42. There are 168 employees eligible to join the union in city government, excluding the fire department, which has its own union. Firefighters labored to their own contract in 2014. Wendy Cullen, who takes part in bargaining sessions with the union, did not respond to an email asking whether the city does, in fact, intent to appeal the vote.
The de-certification vote was prompted by a group of employees who filed a petition with the commission to determine if the union was still viable. The city, according to Burris, has been encouraging workers to drop the union. Votes were held just before and after workers’ shifts and during the lunch hour at three locations in the city. (All week the city hosted “appreciation events” for its employees, including department directors serving breakfast to employees on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the city hosting a lunch on Thursday to recognize employees who’ve served a certain number of years.)
The same day, the union rejected a proposed collective bargaining agreement with the city, 30-0. Burris said it’s not unusual that fewer people would vote on a contract. But the more decisive rejection is an indication of the polarized atmosphere within public works and other departments–not only between those who want a union and those who don’t, but between union members and the city, with two sides far apart.
Workers opposed the contract mirroring existing city policy rather than reflecting union rules over such things as disciplinary procedures and, to some extent, wages. They also objected to the bare-bones nature of the 30-page contract, though the city argued that as a first contract, it wasn’t unusual, and that future contracts would build from there.
“Now that the contract has been voted down, we have to go back to the table and start all over again,” Burris said.
The city has been more eager than the union to get a contract (if not to get rid of the union) because of the coming election, which may tilt the city council’s membership more favorably toward the union. Last month, for example, the union endorsed Milissa Holland, one of three candidates for Palm Coast mayor, and the best known of the three.