It depends upon whom you ask.
Supporters of Bloomington parks and recreation employees packed the council chambers during the Bloomington City Council’s Nov. 19 meeting. Waving signs in support of 23 parks and recreation maintenance workers, a handful of people spoke in support of the employees, who are seeking to unionize under the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
More than 100 representatives of organized labor, including many Bloomington residents, attended the council meeting, according to Jennifer Munt, the public affairs director for AFSCME.
More than six months after employees initiated the process of unionization, negotiations between the city and its parks and recreation employees have yet to commence. “Quit wasting time and money on a court case,” Munt said during an interview following the meeting. “Stop wasting money on lawsuits, start negotiating with your workers.”
The city’s position, however, is that its legal challenge of the unionization effort is driven by a disagreement about who should be represented in the union.
The city has 184 maintenance employees working in several divisions of the city. The duties within the divisions occasionally overlap, meaning parks and recreation employees may be assigned maintenance tasks within the street or building services divisions, according to Kay McAloney, the city’s human resources director. If maintenance employees are going to be represented by a union, the union should represent all divisions, not one, she explained.
The city negotiates with four unions and has a good working relationship with them, according to McAloney. “We are not anti-union,” she said.
Although parks and recreation employees voted in favor of unionizing earlier this year, the city is appealing the ruling by the state Bureau of Mediation Services that the 23 parks and recreation employees should be permitted to unionize.
In October unionization votes of the employees were counted by the bureau – despite repeated objections by the city – with a majority in favor of unionizing, according to Munt.
The city appealed the bureau’s ruling that the employees should be allowed to unionize, and last week the state court of appeals ruled it was appropriate for the city to move forward with its appeal, McAloney said.
Unions for maintenance employees in other metropolitan cities are inclusive of all employees, according to McAloney, and having several unions representing Bloomington’s maintenance employees would be problematic, she said. “It isn’t effective, or efficient.”
Munt said that the state’s largest cities have several unions representing divisions within city departments. “You will find there are multiple unions representing workers who perform maintenance-related tasks,” she said, characterizing Bloomington’s efforts as an attempt to bust the union initiative.
One thing both sides agree upon is that the union initiative is not driven by money.
It’s not always money and benefits that drive workers, according to Munt. The desire for a union is also driven by fair treatment, saying that work rules have changed with the wind, there has been favoritism in who gets promoted and an overall lack of seniority recognition.
McAloney said that the city’s benefits and contracts are among the best she has seen, but disputes that employees aren’t being treated fairly. “Nobody is being mistreated,” she said.
Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead said little in response to the showing at last week’s council meeting, noting it wasn’t proper for either side to go into specifics with a pending appeal.
“We’re going to go through that process and go forward,” he told the audience. “We’re going to see that out.”