Despite an Iowa law allowing otherwise, the city of Burlington is keeping most permissive language items in its contracts with city workers.
Union negotiations between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 828 started on Feb. 9.
“We are working on something that is fair and equitable to both the city and the employees,” said mayor Jon Billups, who said the city council’s role in the negotiations comes later.
These union negotiations mark the first for the city of Burlington since the Iowa Legislature made sweeping changes to Iowa Code Chapter 20 allowing public entities to strip most provisions from union contracts with employees. Billups stressed that union negotiations are just that, negotiations and that it is too early to discuss what the final form of new contracts will look like.
At the public meeting portion of the city’s union negotiations, two contracts were presented, one covering most city union employees, excluding law enforcement and firefighters, and a separate contract for library workers. The contract for library workers is the responsibility of the Burlington Library Board of Trustees while the other contract is addressed to the city. Both contracts are with the same union.
Burlington Police officers are part of the Communications Workers of America Local 7176, and firefighters are represented by the International Association of Firefighters Local 301.
Contracts for the city start in July of the first year and continue through June of the last year of the contract.
The library board is offering to keep the vast majority of the prior year’s contract, with references to health insurance and membership dues being removed due to those sections being illegal.
Of the sections labeled as permissive, nearly all were kept with a few exceptions. The city removed discharged for just cause as a reason for terminating seniority and removed most of the section discussing seniority, with the exception of what defines seniority, from the contract for being either illegal or permissive.
The final step of grievance procedures was removed, making the ruling of the personnel director being the final step in the grievance procedure. Items under the general provisions article were kept except for sections about work rules and personnel files. Impasse procedures also were removed.
Not returning for a leave of absence was removed as a just cause for termination, as was the section allowing library personnel to take an unpaid leave of absence.
The city wants the contract to last three years. A 2.5% yearly pay increase also was proposed by the city for the duration of the contract. Hayley Corkey, an attorney representing the city, said this is the city’s highest offer and there was no need to come in with a lower number just to negotiate it up to the 2.5%.
The city is offering an identical contract to city workers covered by AFSME other than library workers.
AFSME is only proposing one change to the library contract, a 3% increase across the board for each year of the contract, which they would like to see last five years.
The contract for other workers includes several provisions, mostly related to part-time employees. One key provision is allowing holiday pay for part-time employees. The current contract clearly states part-time workers are not eligible for holiday pay. Union representative Amber Moat said they seek this change for a laboratory worker for the Waste Water Treatment Facility.
“There is a worker who works every holiday,” Moat explained.
Another change would be to allow part-time bus drivers to receive vacation time, pro-rated to their hours worked. Currently, all other part-time employees are allowed to collect vacation time.
The union also wants to add the position of Waste Water Treatment Facility maintenance and operations mechanic II. Moat said this change was discussed with WWTF Plant Manager Don Fitting and is in recognition of work that certain employees do at the plant.
Corkey recognized it is possible there may be things related to the contract that the city did not know it needed to take into account when it drafted their contracts and said the city would take the opinions of the union personnel into account.
Now that the contracts have been officially handed off, the city and the union will negotiate in private until an agreement can be reached. Interim city manager Jim Ferneau, Assistant City Manager for Public Works Nick MacGregor and Burlington Public Library Director Rhonda Frevert are handling the negotiations for the city.
The city already has reached a tentative agreement with the members of International Association of Firefighters Local 301, which is a chapter of the American Federation of Laborers and Congress of Industrial Organization. That contract is expected to be approved at the meeting Monday. That being said, the contract will not be released until it is approved by union members.
Under the contract, the city would impose strict rules for trading shifts. Firefighters would not be able to trade shifts if it would come at a cost to the city or if the trades are done for a purpose other than employment.
Firefighters also would have to make their trades 48 hours in advance and such trades would have to be approved by the fire chief and the officer in charge of the shift. Shift changes may be denied if there is scheduled training and denials would have to be given with at least 48 hours of notice.
The city is offering a 1% raise for each of the three years of the contract.
Under the contract, all firefighters would be required to undergo a physical each year. Previously, physicals were required only if the employee was over the age of 36 and physicals were to be completed only every two years. Any tests recommended as part of the physical will be paid for by the city.
Union negotiations in Des Moines County
In 2019, when the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors renegotiated union contracts with custodial and clerical staff, protests against the removal of most of the items labeled as permissive under Iowa law went on for a month. Union members attended supervisor meetings holding signs reading “Stop the attacks, save our contracts, keep the trust we have had for over 40 years’.
In the end, the only provisions that remained in the contracts were grievance procedures and sick leave.
In 2020, when union contracts for Des Moines County Public Health workers and Secondary Roads department employees were renegotiated, all permissive language was stripped other than grievance and sick leave procedures. There were no union protests at any supervisor meetings over those contracts.
Likewise, West Burlington faced similar protests over the proposed removal of most of the language of their union contracts. In the end, only the grievance and sick leave policies were removed from the contracts.
The Burlington School District renegotiated its contracts in 2018, and while there were not protests in the vein of those in the supervisors meetings, the meeting rooms were packed with employees expressing their concerns. The school board did decide to remove permissive items and place them into a handbook.
Since that time, two individuals who are involved in unions in Des Moines County have been elected to the school board. Tom Courtney, a retired union member who fought for workers rights, was elected to the board in 2017, and Anika McVay, who was secretary of the Clerical and Custodial union during the county’s 2019 negotiations, was elected in 2019. Both Courtney and McVay participated in the protests at the supervisors offices.
In the most recent set of contracts, which began in 2020, permissive language was reinstated.