Council backs city in UAW discussions

Published 1:24 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Austin City Council unanimously voted to support the city’s bargaining team in negotiations with the city’s United Auto Workers union members at a closed meeting Tuesday night.

Council members heard from city officials on the negotiations, which were made public when more than 25 UAW workers publicly criticized the city’s bargaining tactics at the Jan. 7 City Council meeting.

City workers asked council members then why the city refused every request the UAW made during the negotiation process. There are 42 UAW workers in the Street, Sewer, Park and Rec and Wastewater Treatment Plant departments out of the city’s total staff of 137, and the last UAW contract expired at the end of 2010.

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At issue is a number of requests by the UAW, specifically a 32 cent adjustment in pay to Parks and Rec equipment operators to match what the city pays Street workers. The city has refused these requests starting in November 2010 and through a number of meetings since then.

A second meeting by a state mediator on Jan. 2 went nowhere, as city officials countered offers with a request for the UAW to switch to bi-weekly paychecks, which the UAW have no issue with according to UAW Negotiator Greg Bell, and a change in language to the Streets/Sewer and treatment plant contracts that UAW workers say greatly benefits the city during call-in situations when overtime is involved.

Council members met for more than a half hour in closed session before city officials emerged, signaling confidence in the city’s negotiating process.

“We’re giving them what everybody else got,” said Mayor Tom Stiehm about the negotiations.

City Administrator Jim Hurm said negotiations should continue and the attention given to the contract situation should hopefully speed bargaining along.

“It shouldn’t take this long,” Hurm said. “We had one contract this year that took 40 minutes.”

Aside from Stiehm, no city officials have spoken to UAW negotiators since the Jan. 2 meeting with mediators. Stiehm said he spoke with Greg Bell and plans to speak with him again about the matter.