Labor dispute continues

Formal hearing to be in March or April
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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A “meeting of the minds” between Local 39 and the city of Lincoln did not happen during a Jan. 5 informal labor conference. That’s according to Joan Bryant, director of Public Employees for Stationary Engineers Local 39. The city’s public-services classified employees are represented by Local 39. Bryant said that a resolution did not happen during the Jan. 5 conference. “We didn’t reach a resolution,” Bryant said. “(A conference) is generally to see if there is some middle ground and there wasn’t any. There was no meeting of the minds between the city and Local 39.” Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep said a formal hearing would occur in March or April since “no resolution was reached” during the conference. Estep would not “talk about” what happened during the conference, citing “those discussions are all confidential.” “(The formal hearing) would be the venue in which we hope to resolve this,” Estep said. A complaint was issued on Nov. 23 by the Public Employment Relations Board, in response to an unfair labor practice charge filed on Oct. 5 by Local 39. The charge stems from an incident while those employees were on strike from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30, according to previous News Messenger reports. The employees were on strike because they disagreed with changes made to their health-care benefits in a Last, Best, and Final Offer adopted by the City Council on Sept. 13. On Sept. 19, a tentative agreement between Local 39 and the city was brought forward to the City Council. The council did not vote yes or no on the agreement but directed city staff to go back to the negotiating table, according to previous News Messenger reports. According to the complaint filed by the Public Employment Relations Board, the city “failed and refused to meet and confer in good faith” with Local 39 and “committed an unfair practice” by not taking action on the tentative agreement. “When we issue a complaint, we are not making a finding that a violation occurred. We are just saying there are sufficient facts alleged that where, if proven, could constitute a violation,” said Les Chisholm, the Public Employment Relations Board’s division chief. A date for a formal hearing, which is open to the public, has not been set as of press time, according to Chisholm. The hearing will be in front of a Public Employment Relations Board administrative law judge, Chisholm said. “The purpose of the hearing is to take evidence on the allegations of the charge and hear legal argument,” Chisholm said. “The administrative law judge will issue a decision, either finding a violation did occur or dismissing the charge.” If the judge finds a violation, “the proposed decision would have an order providing for a remedy,” according to Chisholm. “Then that proposed decision, if it’s not appealed by either party, becomes final and is binding on the parties of this case,” Chisholm said. “Either party, or both parties, could file exceptions or an appeal with the board itself or then the board would consider the record and issue its own decision.”