Unfair labor practice charge dismissed

Local 39 to appeal
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An unfair labor practice charge filed against the city of Lincoln by Local 39, the city?s public-services classified staff, last fall was dismissed on June 7. City officials contacted were pleased with the decision. But one public-service worker, who was on the employee?s negotiating team, said Local 39 would appeal the decision. Local 39 representatives filed the charge with the Public Employment Relations Board against the city on Oct. 5, 2011. The charge was filed because City Council did not vote on a tentative labor agreement for the city?s public-services classified staff, Local 39 International Union of Operating Engineers, according to previous News Messenger reports. Employees were on strike from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30, 2011 because they disagreed with changes made to their health-care benefits in a Last, Best and Final Offer implemented by City Council last Sept. 13, according to previous News Messenger reports. During the strike, a tentative agreement was ratified by the labor group on Sept. 19 and brought before City Council on Sept. 27. The council directed city staff to go back to the negotiating table. A proposed decision was made by the Public Employment Relations Board on June 7. The case?s main issue stated in the decision document is, ?Did the city fail to meet and confer in good faith when it failed to vote on the Sept. 19 tentative agreement?? According to history given in the decision document from the Public Employment Relations Board, Local 39 ?alleges that an employer breached its duty to bargain in good faith when the governing body failed to take a vote on a tentative agreement for a successor contract? and that the city ?denies committing any unfair practices.? The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) section 3505 states that local public agencies and employee organizations are required to ?meet and confer in good faith regarding wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment,? according to the Public Employment Relations Board. Section 3505.1 requires that the public agency and employee organization, after reaching an agreement, ?shall jointly prepare a written memorandum of such understanding, which shall not be binding, and present it to the governing body.? According to the Public Employment Relations Board, Local 39 said that MMBA section 3505.1 requires the city to make a ?determination? on the tentative agreement, meaning the city has an obligation to formally vote to approve or reject the tentative agreement.? ?The city asserts the City Council considered the tentative agreement, found it unacceptable and provided staff with direction to continue working with Local 39 to reach an agreement that was satisfactory to both parties,? reads the board?s June 7 proposed decision. The decision goes on to say that ?there could be no confusion based on the City Council members? public comments that the agreement was not acceptable.? In the ?findings of fact? section of the proposed decision, it?s stated that ?several councilmembers commented on the tentative agreement, stating that it was a good effort but there was more work to be done? and that the council did not vote on the tentative agreement. Instead, it ?directed staff to continue to work with Local 39 to reach a comprehensive agreement they could approve.? ?The Council then took specific action, invoking one of the options in the agenda item memorandum, and gave direction to staff to continue to work with Local 39 on an agreement,? reads the proposed decision. ?The councilmembers? words and specific direction to staff were sufficient to demonstrate the council?s rejection of the tentative agreement.? The proposed order given by the board, dated June 7, is that the complaint and underlying unfair practice charge ?are herby dismissed.? Calls made to Local 39 Director of Public Employees Joan Bryant for a comment regarding the charge?s dismissal were not returned by press time. The News Messenger asked Tim Collins, a steward for Lincoln?s classified bargaining unit and solid waste employee, for a comment on the charge?s dismissal. A steward is part of the negotiating team. ?I had heard that the administrative law judge ruled against us but that it is going to appeal,? Collins said. ?I have not heard that it has been dismissed, nor do I know what the rest of the process is.? Collins did not want to comment further on the charge?s dismissal, since he ?hadn?t seen? the proposed decision. ?We never believed there was any kind of case for an unfair labor practice charge,? City Manager Jim Estep said when asked for his comment. ?We met in good faith during the labor negotiations and we even offered during and after the strike to meet.? Estep said there was ?no case? because the city ?had met in good faith and came to several tentative agreements.? ?The City Council made it clear while they did not technically vote no, they gave clear direction,? Estep said. Mayor Spencer Short described the board?s proposed decision as ?gratifying.? ?It?s very gratifying to show that the city acted properly and to see that the process and system works,? Short. ?As we said all along, we did not engage in unfair labor practice and we will continue to value our employees and relationships and hope to move forward from this.?