Federal union bill concerns city officials

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shelbyville may soon join forces with other Tennessee municipalities to lobby against a bill requiring union representation for public service employees.

City manager Ed Craig explained that a bill has made its way through Congress and is now in the Senate that would require states to have mandatory collective bargaining for fire and police.

The bill, S2123, is titled the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007, and was introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire.

"If you do not meet the federal standards, if you do not in your state, have labor standards that require mandatory collective bargaining with fire and police, then the federal standards would be imposed on the states," if the bill became law, Craig explained.

Craig called the bill "a matter of concern."

The bill would not only put a burden on the city, but also on public service personnel like fire and police officials, because "they do not have a choice. It's a closed shop. They have to be in the union," Craig said.

The city would lose their management rights and the public service officials would lose their rights to meet with management, which would not only include Craig, but the police and fire chief as well.

"They would have to meet through the union shop steward," Craig said.

The city have dealt with unionization effort for firefighters in Tennessee before, Craig said and the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) has opposed the efforts, which Craig termed "a bad bill" that would have "taken away the rights of employees."

The city of Maryville is leading an effort along with other municipalities across the state to lobby against the bill. The National Organization of Cities is also moving against the bill, Craig said.

Currently, there are 30 co-sponsors for the bill in the Senate and it will take 60 to get the unionization bill to a vote. Senators Alexander and Corker are against it, Craig said.

"But they are not enough (to defeat the bill) ... and 17 states are still right to work states. But a lot of senators already have unionized public safety officers and they support the bill because they don't want to lose any votes," Craig explained.

The lobbying effort will take place over the next two and a half months, which Craig termed "a critical period." The contractor is paid $7,500 a month and Maryville is trying to get as many cities to join with them as they can. So far, 15 municipalities have agreed.

The cost to Shelbyville for the lobbying would be about $1,200 and if more cities join the effort, the cost could fall to about $500, Craig stated.