More than two-thirds of West Hollywood's municipal employees voted Tuesday to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), setting the stage for contract negotiations later this month between city officials and union representatives.
As a result of Tuesday's elections in three employee bargaining units, as many as 36 employees in West Hollywood's 50-member work force will be eligible for representation by the union in contract negotiations and work-related matters.
Pro-union employees said the votes showed near-unanimous support for the union among the city's general work force and council aides, who make up two of the city's four employee bargaining units. General staff members approved the union move by a 28-4 vote and the four council aides favored the move unanimously.
"You can't do much better than that," said Abby Baker, a city rent control worker who is also a member of a pro-union steering committee. "It was close to 80% approval (among all who voted in the three elections)."
The third bargaining unit--the city's middle-level managers--deadlocked in its union vote. Because a majority of votes is necessary to approve unionization, the 4-4 vote was tantamount to a rejection of the union move. And a fourth bargaining unit, which consists of three aides who work for senior city officials, unanimously rejected a union vote last month.
The unionization attempt has been significant because West Hollywood portrays itself as a progressive, unique community. City officials and pro-union workers have talked of creating a harmonious working environment at City Hall. Despite some moments of tension last month over the union drive, relations between city officials and pro-union city workers have been amicable.
Four Hours of Voting
The Tuesday election was overseen by Douglas H. Thompson, a mediator with the California Conciliation Service. After four hours of voting by city employees on Tuesday morning, Thompson counted and certified their ballots.
City Manager Paul Brotzman, who has represented the city in most dealings with pro-union city workers in recent months, said that the election totals were what he had expected. "I'm pleased we managed to go about this with a minimum of hard feelings," he said.
Brotzman said he hopes to complete contract negotiations with the general workers and council aides by the end of this month. "Now that we have the elections out of the way, I hope we'd be able to finish the contract negotiations fairly quickly," he said.
Brotzman said that in addition to focusing on the usual salary and benefit adjustments, he would not be surprised if union officials raised the issue of a closed shop, under which all employees covered by the union agreement would be forced to join the union.
"I think that would be a difficult issue only if the union pushed it and the City Council opposes it," Brotzman said, adding, "I hope it won't be an issue."
Although a few city employees have raised concerns about a closed shop, the pro-union steering committee, which backed the union move, has made no commitment to the idea. Instead, members of the steering committee have been surveying city workers to find out what they consider to be important issues for the contract negotiations.
"It would be foolish of us to impose ideas on anyone," said Deborah Potter, a member of the pro-union steering committee and the city's Economic Development Director.
Potter and Baker said that city workers have been concerned about getting a clearer sense of their job classifications and descriptions, improving pay equity between men and women and improving their job benefits.
Cheryl Parisi, staff representative for AFSCME's District Council 36, said the union might push, for example, for the availability of a health maintenance organization.
"Right now, workers can only go with Blue Cross," Parisi said. "In general, we're supportive of the city's benefit programs. We think they've been flexible. We just think there's room for more fleshing out."
Parisi said that in the coming month, the two new unionized employee units will elect officials and members of a bargaining committee. "With the contract negotiations right ahead, we have to get our elections done as soon as possible," Parisi said.