In one of the most divisive votes on an otherwise agreement-filled night, City Council voted to deny an appeal by a union to create a collective bargaining unit for 11 labor trainee as-needed, full-time beach workers.
The 4-2 vote upheld a decision by Interim City Manager Elaine Polacheck to deny the petition put forth by the International Workers of the World (IWW) — not to be confused with the Industrial Workers of the World — to represent the city employees.
Human Resources Director Donna Peter made the argument that the location of their workplace — the beach — alone is not enough to qualify the workers as a unit under the ordinance by which these decisions are judged. She noted that their work location is subject to change depending on need.
Additionally, she made the point that there are other labor trainees in the city that may not work at the beach but do perform similar tasks.
The varied benefits and working conditions between union and nonunion as-needed labor trainees (of which there are about 40) could fragment the workforce, Peter said, and hurt the efficiency of city operations.
“In this case, creating a separate unit of 11 labor trainees as-needed may result in friction from similar classifications that are already placed in a different unit and separately represented, i.e. the Teamsters,” Peter said, “or employees in the same labor classification who would remain unrepresented: Other labor trainees as-needed who are not assigned to the beach.”
A majority of city employees are represented by the Teamsters but that union does not recognize any of City Hall’s as-needed workers, Peter said. And while there are about 40 as-needed labor trainees in the city, only 12 to 14 of them have been full-time for the past year, as is the case with the 11 beach workers.
Ali Rahnoma, of the IWW, told council that the beach workers approached them seeking a union. City Hall is in the process of bringing the as-needed beach worker positions — and others — in-house as permanent employees. Once this happens, they can be classified in the Teamsters bargaining unit.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich made a motion, seconded by Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez, that council allow the petition to move forward.
“They aren’t represented, and nobody has really stepped forward to represent them but IWW,” she said. “I think we should recognize them as a bargaining unit.”
After some discussion, Councilmember Pam O’Connor made a substitute motion, denying IWW permission to represent the workers.
“I think the key factor, in addition to what we’ve heard, is precedent here and making sure that we’re managing the city according to the rules that have been well-established here,” said Councilmember Terry O’Day who seconded O’Connor’s motion. “We heard from our staff and I think this is a critical factor.”
O’Connor’s motion passed with votes from O’Day, Mayor Kevin McKeown, and Councilmember Ted Winterer.
“I have always been sympathetic to the plight of workers and I am a union guy,” McKeown said, “and I think that back in January this council took a very bold and progressive move by starting to bring the as-needed workers into house and into the city family. I’m not necessarily convinced we need to complicate that.”
Further, he said, echoing O’Day, that the process is governed by an ordinance.
“(It) says that the principal criterion in making determination of approval of a bargaining unit is whether there is a community of interest among the employees,” McKeown said, “and I’ve heard more compelling evidence that there is not a community of interest than I have that there is a community of interest.”
Rahnoma, speaking before the decision was made, called the administration’s denial of the petition an “antiunion stance.”
“If the question of labor relations is decided based on an administrative standpoint,” he said, “I truly believe the people who are doing the administrating are going to be the benefactors of such a decision.”
No beach workers spoke during the public testimony.