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City Hall Workers Join Union : Labor: The action by 23 Bell Gardens employees follows a dispute with the mayor over their work habits.


Bell Gardens City Hall clerical workers and support staff, apparently concerned that a rift with some City Council members may jeopardize their jobs, have joined a service workers union.

The 23 workers voted unanimously last month to join the Service Employees International Union Local 347, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The City Council has appointed two city representatives to handle contract negotiations with the group, which includes such workers as secretaries, administrative aides and telephone operators.

"This is the only way we can stay out of (the council's) politics," Assistant City Clerk Margie McCashland said. "We just want to come to work and do our jobs. That is what we are paid to do."

Some workers have said they are particularly concerned about a recent run-in with Mayor Frank B. Duran, as well as the arrival of a cryptic funeral wreath at City Hall with the message: "In Loving Memory of Staff."

At a recent council meeting, the mayor chastised employees for coming in late to work and taking long lunches. He said the work habits amount to "stealing" from the city. The next day, irate employees confronted the mayor as he made his way through City Hall and demanded an explanation.

Duran later shrugged off the incident, describing it as a "very civil and polite conversation" with the workers. However, at the council meeting Duran offered an apology to the employees, many of whom were in the audience.

"I care for and respect most of the employees," he said. "Most of you are honest and dedicated." As for the few bad apples, Duran said, "they know who they are and they ruin it for everyone else."

However, Duran's statement further agitated some of those at the meeting, who said they thought Duran was making a veiled threat rather than apologizing.

"We shouldn't have to work under those kinds of conditions and with those kinds of suspicions," code enforcement inspector Carlos Levario said. "We have never felt safe since they came to the council. Now we can feel a little more security."

City Manager William Vasquez said City Hall employees are hard workers and that he has never had a problem with employees being tardy or taking long breaks.

The employees had briefly considered joining the union last March, when the new City Council took office and sent City Hall into a tailspin by firing several key administrators who had worked with the current staff for years.

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