The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

April 9, 2013

Union seeks recognition: City employees organizing a petition drive to amend charter

ENID, Okla. — Enid’s city employee union is organizing a petition drive to call an election to amend the city charter so the union will be recognized.

That would allow the union to continue to collectively bargain for city workers.

“We’re getting organized. We will start the week of May 13 and plan to have the election Nov. 12,” said Michael Goodpasture, president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

City Clerk Linda Parks said 402 valid signatures are required to call the election. The number is based on votes from the Ward 3, 4 and 6 election this year. The deadline for signatures is 90 days after officials file the petition, which would put completion of the drive to gather signatures at the first or second week of August. Goodpasture thinks the union can obtain sufficient signatures in that time. In 2008, a state law was approved that required Oklahoma cities with populations of 35,000 to recognize municipal unions and participate in collective bargaining. The law was overturned after Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation in 2011 to end the requirement cities must engage in collective bargaining.

Goodpasture said City Manager Eric Benson is the only city manager the union has bargained with and he has been fair. Through bargaining, union members obtained a grievance procedure that allows them to discuss issues with the city as a group, rather than a single individual attempting to make changes. They never have had a strike and are prohibited by law from striking.

The union established a good relationship with the city through the bargaining process, Goodpasture said.

“They’ve earned it,” Benson said.

Benson said union officials approached the city commission after the collective bargaining law was repealed by the Legislature and asked the city to continue bargaining, but the commission refused. Commissioners said they would honor the current two-year contract, but would not bargain after that time, Goodpasture said.

“They asked us to authorize them, and the commission wanted them to get the initiative petition. It’s important on both sides,” Benson said.

Goodpasture does not know if a conservative city like Enid will vote to recognize the union. The petition would amend the city charter to allow collective bargaining and recognize the union. He said Benson has been friendly and they have a good relationship with the city manager and the city commission.

“But the city manager and council won’t be there forever,” Goodpasture said. “Our purpose is not to be an adversary against the council, but to establish so it’s there in the future, in case we get an unfriendly manager or council. It protects the city in case the union gets radical leadership.

“We’re all residents of Enid, so we’re all hometown folks,” Goodpasture said.

The union will turn the petitions in to the city clerk’s office, which will verify the signatures and call the election.

Goodpasture said there are no problems with the city now. Union officials just want to be sure nothing comes up under future administrations, as it did under previous administrations, he said. Union members were unhappy about conditions existing at the city during the term of former City Manager Bill Gamble, Goodpasture said. The city was in serious financial trouble, and officials made a number of cuts. Some city employees believed they were abused by the administration, Goodpasture said, which led to the formation of the union.

Goodpasture said there is a good relationship with the city now. Safety has never been better, and morale between the union and the city is good.

Benson said his dealings with the union have been professional. Benson said he has no problem with the union circulating the petition.

“It’s important on both sides. They’ve been stellar in meeting their requirements,” Benson said. “I’m very proud of those employees in this union. This group is unique in their efforts.”

Benson complimented Goodpasture’s leadership, saying they both work hard and they get along well. The union has the right to pursue the petition, and Benson encourages them.

“Ultimately, it’s a vote of the people. If they convince the people of Enid to do it, we will respect that, we have to,” Benson said. “It can work both ways effectively, as long as this union and I are doing it. Both parties have to work together to make it work.”

Ward 5 City Commissioner Tammy Wilson said the union is doing what commissioners asked it to do. She said the commission felt it was the best thing to get signatures from the community.

“That’s what we decided they should do. If the community supports it, then they do. That’s the fairest way to do it, it’s their tax money,” Wilson said.

Mayor Bill Shewey confirmed the commission asked the union to circulate the petition.

“That was back about a year ago. They wanted the commission to allow it to be put on the ballot, and the commission told them to get the petitions,” Shewey said. “I have no problem with that. It’s their prerogative to do that.”

Enid’s police and fire departments are represented by collective bargaining units.

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