Here we go again – collective bargaining! | City Corner

By Mary Ann Hardie | Sep 28, 2018


With four represented (or "union") groups of employees at the City and one group of non-union, exempt employees (professional and managerial employees), we are often in negotiations or at the table in bargaining.

The four unions are the Edmonds Police Officers' Association (commissioned police officers from officer to sergeant level); Law Support (non-commissioned police staff including police services assistants, animal control officers and parking enforcement staff); Teamsters (maintenance workers, custodians, wastewater treatment plant operators), and the Edmonds Employee Association/Washington State Council of County and City Employees affiliated with AFSCME (clerical, administrative and professional support staff.).

Each bargaining unit is comprised of positions that share similar work, working conditions, etc., to form a "community of interest."

The union has the power and authority to bargain on behalf of all union employees, including through the collective bargaining agreement, union contract.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 41.56) and the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) determine what must be bargained. This includes mandatory subjects such as wages, hours, benefits and working conditions, as outlined in the union contract.

There are also "permissive" subjects that may be bargained if both parties agree to do so, as well as subjects that cannot be bargained.

Union contracts are often one to four years in length. Benefits of a longer-term contract include setting labor costs as well as the time allocated to the negotiations process. Depending on when a contract expires, the City and the union may initiate negotiations prior to the end of the contract through a notice of "demand to bargain."

Sometimes it takes over a year to bargain a contract; part of bargaining is understanding the interests and underlying issues and concerns. Despite the best labor relations with a union, there is no magical timeframe for the completion of this process, especially when there may be challenging contract language issues and/or decision-and-effects bargaining.

Decision-and-effects bargaining relates to when there is a change to a mandatory subject of bargaining. This occurs when the City makes a change (or the working conditions change outside the City's control) and this decision and/or its impacts upon working conditions have to be bargained.

This may also occur when there is a state or federal law change that makes any section of contract language no longer legal or valid and impacts working conditions.

A few decision-and-effects bargaining issues have been challenging to work through recently. On Jan. 1, the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), the city's health insurance consortium, ended its most popular health insurance plan for members in response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and increasing costs in health care, which continues to be a trend nationwide.

Edmonds, along with all of the other AWC city and county members, was on this plan and had to transition to another available health insurance plan, which required bargaining.

Also, recent new state legislation caused "effects bargaining." And, on Jan. 1, 2020, the new Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave Law will take effect, with funding effective January 1, 2019.

The program provides paid medical leave and paid family leave for a certain period (generally up to 12 weeks, with exceptions) and may be bargained. Also, this June, the Janus court decision was decided, which affected any union security (dues collection) clause language existing in the contracts, which also required bargaining.

We work closely with our unions at the City to maintain good labor relations and good communications even when our interests may not always be aligned.

For this reason, we spend time away from the table working and communicating with our unions to understand concerns (including through labor management conference committees) and to address grievance issues.

The City is mindful of the morale and impact to the employees of a fair and stable contract, while also being mindful, through Council-provided parameters, of the long-term costs to the City's budget.

Mary Ann Hardie is director of the City of Edmonds' Human Resources department.



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