9/14/07

Teamsters organizing local law enforcement

Scott County (MO) sheriff’s department and jail employees will decide for themselves if they want to become a union shop or not. Robert Hutchings, business representative for Teamsters Local 600, and Tim Meadows, the local’s business representative, organizer and communications/research director, asked county commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday to approve a measure by which the county’s law enforcement personnel would become members of the Teamsters labor union.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court decided public employees such as law enforcement personnel may organize into unions. Teachers and law enforcement are two of the biggest groups unions are now seeking to organize.

Hutchings said employees of the sheriff’s department and jail in Scott County have signed cards twice indicating their desire to become a union shop. “It seemed like these people wanted it without an election,” he said.

The Teamsters officials said law enforcement personnel are interested as the union can offer a better health insurance plan along with job security due to the union’s seniority policy and grievance procedure.

“We just knocked a home run with our insurance,” Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said. “You would have to have a heck of policy to compare with what we’ve got.”

Hutchings said the Teamsters have saved new members from $160 to $700 per month in insurance premiums.

He said the Teamsters can tell county official now what premiums would be for the next three or four years whereas with the county’s current insurance plan “you don’t know what it’s going to be next year.”

Meadows said the union also offers the county’s law enforcement personnel the ability to campaign for whomever they wish in county elections for sheriff without concerns about losing their job if they support the losing candidate. “Their jobs are protected,” he said. “They’re going to want to organize for their protection. ... That’s what they like; that’s what they want.”

If the sheriff’s department and jail staff become part of the Teamsters, Hutchings said he would act as their spokesman and negotiate employment contracts on their behalf.

County Clerk Rita Milam asked about the possibility of employees resisting management because they know they can’t be fired.

Hutchings assured county officials that “there’s guidelines for both sides” as far as terminations go.

Hutchings also said no strikes would be allowed in the event an agreement on a contract could not be reached although they would have the option to do informational pickets. “I’ve never run into spiteful opposition,” he added. Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said as elected officials, they must keep the county’s best interests in mind.

Burger added that as elected officials, he and other county officials have seen the difference between promises of support and actual votes during campaigns so he is not convinced the signed cards are a clear indication of whether the county employees really want to become a union shop or not or not.

“I feel we owe it to our employees, owe it to our constituents, to have a vote,” he said.

Burger said if the employees do vote for organizing, county officials will do whatever the law says they must do.

“Then we’ll have to go to the election process,” Meadows said. “We’ll get the paper work started and begin the process.”

Before an election can be held for the department and jail to become part of the union, the state will have to approve the election, according to the union officials.

Meadows said as far as the state’s reaction to their request for an election to unionize the county’s law enforcement, “I don’t know what they’ll do or even how they’ll react to it.”

As an gubernatorial election is coming up soon, there is even more uncertainty, he added.

If the state approves the election, only the sheriff’s department and jail staff would participate in the vote to decide if they will become part the union. The communications department would be a separate vote to become part of the union.

If voted in, the first step will be drafting a contract proposal, “their wish list,” Hutchings said. “Then we sit down and start negotiating that contract.”

The cost for each employee to join the union would be a $300 initiation fee plus monthly dues of 2.5 times the employee’s hourly rate plus $7.

In other Scott County news, a 9/11 tribute ceremony was held in the courthouse atrium Tuesday morning.

“Jamie spoke to us and then we had a moment of silence,” Commissioner Ron McCormick said. “It was pretty moving.”

(mywebpal.com)

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