The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

November 9, 2013

Vote ‘no’: Situation between the city, municipal workers isn’t broken

ENID, Okla. — On Tuesday, Enid voters will be asked to decide whether to change the city charter to allow non-uniformed city employees to affiliate with a union and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and workplace rules.

Over the decades, unions have helped workers in various industries achieve higher pay and better working conditions. A healthy and cooperative union environment can keep both workers and managers accountable. Unfortunately, the very complex rules required in a union environment can get distorted and perverted, and common sense does not always prevail.

When local government employees are allowed to unionize, the big winners are often the labor law attorneys and arbitrators. Collective bargaining agreements typically create detailed, time-consuming and expensive ways to challenge workplace decisions. In a non-union workplace, disputes might be resolved promptly through a formal discussion with a top executive. But in a union environment, such grievances too often are formalized and dragged out through hearings with attorneys and testimony and appeals processes. Mediation and arbitration can become a painfully long and expensive process, and too often common sense is trampled by convoluted labor law.

Even without collective bargaining, city government employees already have a strong element of accountability in the workplace because their employer’s ultimate bosses are the taxpayers and voters of the city of Enid. Those voters and taxpayers elect the city commissioners that hire the supervisors and set the work rules. If inappropriate things happen, those publicly elected officials can make changes immediately.

That’s not the case when collective bargaining is involved. If inappropriate things happen in a union environment, both sides lawyer up and argue back and forth in a very formal and expensive way. In that situation the decision usually is made not by elected local representatives but by the dictates of the National Labor Relations Board.

Fortunately, the situation between the City of Enid and its municipal workers is not deeply troubled and broken.

According to a public employees representative, the average length of service for city employees is more than 20 years. That’s impressive.

With Enid and northwest Oklahoma facing low unemployment and an abundance of job openings, turnover among city employees would be rampant if wages and working conditions were poor.

City workers provide valuable services. They are the reason we have clean, running water. They keep the streets clean, the parks mowed and the traffic lights working.

Tuesday’s election is not a referendum on these good people or the work they do. Rather, it is a question of whether the city charter should be changed to allow them to unionize and collectively bargain over wages, benefits, work conditions, etc. In this case, the best answer is “no.”

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