9/12/07

Negotiators lead unionized city workers to picket

Some Rock Island (IL) AFSCME members employed by the city say they've worked since March without a contract. These are the people who plow your streets and pick up the trash. This Thursday they plan to meet with the city's bargaining team for the 17th time.

Tonight the union showed its frustration during a picket in front of city hall. Rock Island has already negotiated contracts with the police and with clerical staff. But there are some sticking points with the city's streets department workers, maintenance workers, sanitation workers, mechanics, electricians, marian workers and equipment operators.

The major issue is working on standby and being paid overtime.

Rick Hitchcock a street's department employee. He describes his job fixing water main breaks in the winter, "It's sometimes a muddy mess but and it's cold, but you get through it and get it done."

He's marching in this picket because the city wants to pay workers 25 bucks a week for being on standby instead of the two hours of overtime a day they got last year.

Dino Leone a staff representative for AFSCME. Leone says, "The standby we have in place has been in place for decades and it works they can place employees on stand by 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

But the city says it hasn't always worked. There have been delays in response to emergencies and the need to pay outside, private contractors to do this work.

Leone says, "What happened was we had a major snow storm and water main breaks going on at the same time."

Hitchcock says, "I had gotten home in bed an hour and half later the phone rings they want me to come in for snow, I said man I just got off eighteen hours straight I physically can't do it."

Hitchcock says the city has gone from 100 workers to 73 workers but expects everything to get done.

He doesn't want the city to touch his standby pay and the union representative says they hope to get a pay increase like the police department did of 4 percent.

The city manager, John Phillips is out of town this week. But he told me a couple of weeks ago he is concerned that the city can respond in case of emergencies.

The information sheet he gave me says there are 4 language issues and 13 economic issues left to negotiate on Thursday with the union.

Rock Island's public works director says he doesn't think Thursday's meeting will be the last effort to hammer out an agreement.

(wqad.com)

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