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It's best to consider all sides of an issue

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I’ve supported the 36 Lincoln public-service workers striking since Sept. 14. I don’t like good workers having salary and benefit cuts. Then I saw three YouTube videos last Thursday that showed a few strikers yelling at contract employees driving buses and trucks to and from the corporation yard. On the video, police were stationed there. By Friday, the videos were pulled off of YouTube. The videos were painful to watch. I didn’t understand why some strikers belittled the contract employees. That can’t help when union reps at the bargaining table are trying to secure job contracts that keep health-care concessions to a minimum. Besides calling the employees scabies, the strikers used the F-word and other cusswords. But screaming these words do not help the negotiation process. On the contrary, it further separates the opposite sides from understanding each other and arriving at an agreement. A surreal picture of Lincoln was depicted, in which some workers left their good manners at home. It was hard to match this picture with the dedicated workers I see in Lincoln. Workers who pick up our garbage, fix leaking water mains, and repair sewage lines and street lights 24/7. Or sweep leaves that clog storm drains, clean graffiti and pick up park trash . Hoping the videos presented a one-time occurrence, I visited the corporation yard at 5:30 a.m. Friday. Unfortunately, the videos were not an anomaly. Some strikers yelled obscenities as they walked toward the approaching vehicles. I mentioned to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 business representative James Britton that the videos crossed the line. He acknowledged that the strikers were toning down the profanity. Striker Phil Dudley, a parks and facilities maintenance worker for eight years, explained why workers were yelling at the contract employees. “We’re pissed off. It’s day 24; there is no pay, no support. We’re not working and we need to get back to work,” Dudley said. “There are a few cuss words but believe me, this strike is family-friendly compared to the Teamster strikes. We will stand up for what’s right. We’re standing up for our jobs. We’re walking the line.” Picketing is guaranteed by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech, he added. “Nine (police) of them are getting overtime to watch us picket. How’s that helping the General Fund?” Dudley asked. I know many of the workers didn’t hurl four-letter words to the city’s drivers. Still, having a few throw insults isn’t good PR for the group. Dudley defended his fellow strikers. “Contract employees took our jobs. People will do what they have to do to feed their family; some people will not. We were just telling them they are scabs. It’s very frustrating,” Dudley said. Police stationed at the corporation yard that morning were also frustrated. They consider the public-service employees outstanding workers. “What’s upsetting to me is I’ve worked with these employees for 21 years,” said Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra. “You can’t ask for better employees. We’re a big family. However, we’re here to keep the peace and keep people honest. I want this resolved as quickly as they do. I understand the financial hardships they’re going through.” Three police officers “normally” are stationed at the corporation yard two hours every weekday morning and afternoon since the strike began, according to Ibarra. “These employees have a right to picket. But emotions get in the way. Inappropriate behavior gets in the way,” Ibarra said. “There was a little incident this morning when one of the picketers didn’t follow officers’ orders to clear the entrance and we called more police in. The strikers were keeping four garbage trucks from leaving the corporation yard to begin their routes.” A few minutes earlier, Britton told me that police were arresting him because he was walking on the sidewalk. “We didn’t arrest him; we had to detain him to inform him of the violation of the law which pertains to following a lawful order by a police officer. He was released. We’ve been working with them on a daily basis to protect their right to picket and protect the rights of the city to operate efficiently and complete the daily routes for the garbage trucks and the buses,” Ibarra said. Lincoln is still a small town in which we’re friends and neighbors with many of the city employees. “Bottom line, I have a lot of respect for them,” Ibarra said. “They go above and beyond of what they’re supposed to do. I’ve seen them in action for the last 21 years. I’ve worked with them through severe storms, floods, city emergencies such as the tanker fire. You can’t ask for harder-working employees like them. They believe in the principle for why they’re picketing and I hope this situation is resolved as quickly as possible.” Carol Feineman can be reached at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com