MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 17, 2012

City, AFSCME contract talks falter

Union official says city not making concessions

— Contract negotiations between Muskogee’s non-uniform employees and city administrators appear to be stalling out.

City workers, who overwhelmingly supported the reorganization of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2465, had hoped to have a new contract before the end of the year.

With six weeks left, those hopes are beginning to fade. Local members reportedly have signed off on provisions sought by administrators. However, there has been no reciprocation on the part of the city for concessions sought by employees, a union official said.

Negotiators have been silent about the proceedings. An AFSCME International field organizer said the sticking point appears to be a prior memorandum of understanding that established guidelines for the distribution of sales tax revenue dedicated for wages and benefits.

Matthew Jordan, a regional organizer who was appointed in 2011 to serve as trustee of AFSCME Local 2465 after city councilors quit recognizing the employee group, said it is “time for the city to do the right thing.”

“We don’t want to go to court if we don’t have to, we just want the city do the right thing,” Jordan said, noting frustration with administrators’ refusal to recognize or reinstate the memorandum of understanding. “If we do have to go to court, the international organization is very committed and willing to fight this all the way — we believe the legal facts are on our side.”

City Manager Greg Buckley, who was unavailable for comment, has said the agreement was part of AFSCME’s collective bargaining contract city councilors allowed to expire. City Attorney Roy Tucker said the memorandum “was inextricably tied” to AFSCME’s contract and lacks “consideration to support its existence as an independent contract.”

Jordan said administrators appear to be using the issue to delay negotiations and the ratification of a new contract. The initial hopes of the city’s non-uniform employees — who won the right to reorganize with 95 percent support — was to ratify a basic contract by December then gear up in January to negotiate next year’s agreement.

“With no contract, the employees have no rights, no dues are being collected, and we cannot even legally represent an employee who has been disciplined,” Jordan said. “We have an ordinance that allowed the workers to reorganize, and that was the intent of the new City Council. The administration is holding up progress.”

Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne said he is concerned about the slow pace of negotiations and the city’s apparent refusal to recognize or reinstate the memorandum of understanding. Payne said he has no inside knowledge of the negotiations, but he favors a speedy resolution of the process.

“It is my opinion the city ought to act post-haste to get that done — that is what we told them (city workers) we would do, and that is what we need to do,” Payne said, noting he plans to visit with Buckley and Mayor Bob Coburn about the issue. “I think it’s the city’s responsibility to get it done.”

Payne said he believes negotiators on both sides have a responsibility to move this issue forward. AFSCME representatives need to “get their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed,” and the “city needs to move forward and get this thing done.”

If the memorandum of understanding is the sticking point, Payne said city should honor the workers’ wishes with regard to the distribution of the dedicated sales tax revenue.

“The city manager seems to want to build up a larger reserve,” Payne said. “But if it’s their (the workers’) money, by law, in the first place, and they don’t want a bigger reserve, I think it’s their decision to make.”

Coburn, who said he supports the workers’ right to organize but sees no need for a union, said he has no knowledge about the status of negotiations. He declined to comment about the memorandum of understanding or the negotiations.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot

@muskogeephoenix.com.

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