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Palm Coast Government’s Blue-Collar Workers Barely Retain Union But Reject Contract

| May 13, 2016

public works vote palm coast union

Palm Coast’s Human Resources Director Wendy Cullen and attorney Jeff Mandell, at the far end of the table, during a collective bargaining session with public works employees last month at City Hall. (© FlaglerLive)

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.

The proposed contract.

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10 Responses for “Palm Coast Government’s Blue-Collar Workers Barely Retain Union But Reject Contract”

  1. anonymous says:

    All I have heard about Flagler County is that it’s the highest unemployment rate in the entire state of Florida.
    Furthermore, the lowest paid County.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article time to let the public know what goes on behind those doors in town center

  3. Jim says:

    This is city not county. City of palm coast is not New York City. Most workers are overpaid and tax payers will continue to pay if Union gets its way. Keep the unions up north.

  4. confidential says:

    Without “good honest unions” our service workers or any workers are slaves then.
    I am just retired a also taxpayer and can say I was never a union worker just a young employee in the first part of my life and abused left an right and kicked of my jobs sometimes to no fault of my own and to the employers desires as I had no voice after they had me trainning my replacement. Then decided to be for the second part of my life a non greedy business owner that treated my employees with respect and compassion. I did not become a millionaire but I have an okay financial life and more important “peace of mind” for when my time comes to face the Almighty. This is why I believe that without good unions and our middle and lower class workers making decent salaries we have NO MIDDLE CLASS to sustain our number One USA. The 1% and the wealthy are not what sustain our country but our huge Middle Class paying payroll/income tax in decent wages while affording to buy goods and without them we are really f…ed! So the wealthy or the wannabe’s pretenders living on loans here, bashing our workers and their unions are just like spitting against the wind, better watch what they wish for! They need to concentrate in the stomach revolting overpay of high administrators and CEO’s/Chair of corporations etc. instead. Please pee at the right tree.

  5. One of the 54 says:

    You are right confidential. We need good honest unions. Local 630 and Ron Burris are not that. I originally voted for the Union but the way they conduct business made me loose faith in them. They come in, and without a process, they assign union stewards that I did not elect. Meetings are held last moment so few can attend. They have meetings and you show up and they have been canceled but if you are not in the “click” you are not notified. The original business manager was replaced for dubious reasons. The union steward for utilities handles union matters as a social group which only some can belong to by text email and facebook. I became part of the 54 employees tired of local 630. and you know what confidential? Ron burris and a fellow employee violated my right of confidentiality. The PW employee posted on his personal facebook page the full petition to decertify with the list of 54 employees with a statement saying “Watch your back”. (all verifiable) I will not post the name of the employee I am not a low life, but it is known by all the employees affected (Also verifiable) RON BURRIS HIMSELF GAVE HIM THE LIST (Ron admitted to this). He then says that the city is trying to influence votes? All the petitioners for desertification, the 54, now fear for their own safety and that of their families. Mr Burris thinks there is no reason for a re-vote? How about voter intimidation, or manipulating an election? Many of the 54 were very shaken by this, some even in fear. The public works employee then even went farther. He stood at the entrance of the voting area (many witnesses) and this should not have been allowed. If even one of the 54 petitioners was too afraid to vote it is enough reason to invalidate the election. It is not the city, it is us the ones who were threatened that will contest this election. Local 630 and Ron Burris don’t run a honest Union and if I was a politician running for mayor or any position I would be reluctant to be associated with them. Whose interest do you have, the Dirty Union or the citizens?

  6. Madame Defarge of Florida says:

    Unions have made life better for all working Americans by passing laws ending child labor, establishing the eight-hour day, protecting workers’ safety and health and helping create Social Security, unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. Right to Work Laws are meant to constrict the Rights of Hard Working People. Keeping Wages Low is Religion in Florida. Can’t get by on Sunshine Alone!

  7. confidential says:

    Madame Defarge …you are so right as right was Carlin!
    The Right to Work States just show you the Right to F..k Workers and only we all at the ballot box can change it!

  8. One of the 54 says:

    42 against the union, then 54 petition to de-certify and now 72 vote against it. The union continues to say that the city is convincing the employees to go against the union. The union can not talk for the employees who have lack of faith in it. As Unions go this is a poor example. Meetings that only a few know about. Canceling meetings last moment and fail to announce it. Now that you “prevailed” how about being more inclusive with all the departments you represent. PW is not the only department in the Blue collar union. That is why I switched my vote.

  9. screaming Eagle says:

    One of 54 I want to thank you for your comment. The Union should and will have better communications. I am the Business Manager of Local 630 and I retired as a wastewater operator from JEA. I was in Utilities for over 25 years and know and understand it very well. I now represent several Public Utilities departments as well as Public Works. I just want to say thanks for voicing your opinion. Your voice does count.

  10. Charlie D says:

    When I was in high school ( over 40 years ago ) I got a summer job working for one of the biggest unions in the country. What I learned that summer was that the union officers were looking to see what they could get for themselves. Union members were refered to as a$$holes. When members would ask questions they were told to shutup, pay us your dues and be thankful we let you have a job. From that point on I avoided any and all union jobs and I’ve done pretty darn good in my jobs.

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