BELLFLOWER — For the first time since the city was incorporated more than 30 years ago, City Hall blue-collar workers will be represented by a union.
Public Works Department employees, such as maintenance workers and mechanics, on Tuesday voted 24 to 8 to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which will represent them in contract talks.
"We feel very good about it," union representative Pete Schnaufer said. "We won in the face of several obstacles."
The election victory gives momentum to the union's discussions with the city to represent clerical workers and part-time recreation employees, Schnaufer said.
He said he is willing to begin talks with city administrators immediately. Among the employees' top concerns are wages and insurance benefits after retirement.
Schnaufer and city administrators have had several bitter confrontations since last summer, when the union first told City Hall that its blue-collar employees wanted union representation. Schnaufer has accused city leaders of stalling to avoid an election. Some city leaders have accused Schnaufer of grandstanding.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents workers in several Southeast cities, including Hawaiian Gardens and Cerritos. Schnaufer said Bellflower city workers approached him in July, after city employees were given a 5% raise and city administrators received raises up to 15%.
"The workers blew up," Schnaufer said.
Since then, Schnaufer and the city have been negotiating on guidelines for union representation.
City Councilman Joe Cvetko said Wednesday that he expected the workers to seek union representation as soon as they heard of the management raises.
"The city will survive," he said. "It's good for the men. I can work with the union."
Cvetko said he was a member of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers union for many years.