Machinists and aerospace union files grievance against City of Bainbridge Island regarding layoffs

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has filed its largest grievance ever against the City of Bainbridge Island on behalf of the bargaining unit it represents at the city.

Through the city’s budget process and the subsequent reorganization of city staff, the union has raised some concerns over the choices made by Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer to unilaterally layoff and terminate dozens of employees last year. The complaint accused the city of not following the stipulations within the union contract.

“[The city] laid off select positions, hired [back] only the ones it wanted and paid no attention to seniority,” said Mike Goddard, the assistant directing business representative for District 160 of the IAMAW. “Some of the people they let go are long-term employees with the city that one city director has for years made comments about wanting to get rid of. Ultimately we got a copy of a hit list.”

The union claims it is fighting on behalf of employees who were laid off without regard to their seniority, Those who were dismissed and then rehired, were stripped of their seniority though they were hired back to substantially equivalent positions.

The grievance lists five specific articles in which the city violated union contract under the collective bargaining agreement from the dates of Dec. 31, 2010, to Jan. 6, 2011. The employees involved include all nine workers who were laid off by the city without being rehired as of Dec. 31, 2010, and all 22 employees who were laid off in December 2010 and later rehired or retained as of January 2011.

After Goddard spoke during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s council meeting, the council responded with a prepared statement read by Mayor Bob Scales. The statement said the council had been kept informed of the labor negotiations and fully supports the good faith efforts of Bauer.

Bauer said the city has gone from 153 city employees in 2007 to 111 in 2011 and needed a new framework. She said the city is bargaining in good faith with the union following the terms in their agreement.

“The allegation that I reorganized the entire city to get rid of a couple people is patently ridiculous,” said Bauer.

Bauer said the union did not bring up concerns until after the budget passed.

Goddard said the trouble began in October 2010, when the city announced plans to reduce the number of city employees. Around mid-year, the union had agreed to roll-over its contract – set to expire at the end of last year – primarily because it understood the dire financial situation at the city.

Goddard said the union understood the need to reduce staff and was willing to work with the city as long as the city followed the contract.

The union objected from the beginning about the city wanting to create new and eliminate old job classifications.

“We told them you can’t just come up with these things. You have a burden under law to negotiate and we still don’t understand why you are doing this,” said Goddard.

Bauer said the city had to eliminate positions in cases where there were three supervisory positions for a small amount of actual workers, so some classifications were eliminated and redistributed through new classifications.

Goddard said the union repeatedly told the city that laying off and rehiring city officials was inefficient and the city would be better served by putting employees into existing classifications and negotiate quickly before continuing, according to Goddard.

The grievance descriptions include: the city not giving due consideration to seniority; laying off and rehiring employees in substantially equivalent positions, then stripping those “new hires” of their seniority; unilaterally determining wage rates for new positions without first consulting the union; and the city implementing changes over wages, hours and working conditions without first satisfying its statutory obligations to bargain over all decisions.

“City employees are scared to death now of the City Council, Brenda Bauer and especially Lance Newkirk (director of the Public Works Department) if they in any way speak out or voice their opinion,” said Goddard. “Behind closed doors they say this is horrible place to work. I don’t know why the [city] would have picked a battle like this.”

Goddard blamed Bauer’s lack of experience in running a city and the city attorney’s lack of labor law knowledge. Goddard said the union may also file unfair labor practice complaints and litigation. Goddard said litigation could put the city in a major hole.

Paul Miller, steward for the local union, said he is disappointed the situation has boiled down to this.

“The city could have done this the right way if they would have gone by seniority and what the contract stipulates,” said Miller. “We understood the financial situation and we had been through previous reductions in force where the city did use the seniority provision and we had no problem with it.”

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