McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 5, 2013

Tuesday vote would allow city workers to organize

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Voters within city limits will vote Tuesday whether to allow city employees to bargain together for wages, benefits and other personnel issues.

If a majority of voters approve, city of Enid employees will be able to join American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and negotiate as a unit.

City employee and AFSCME local President Joey Breeze said the union has been campaigning since it turned in a signature petition earlier this year.

“We’ve been just hitting it every chance we get. Everything’s going all right,” he said.

The signature petition placed the question on the ballot. Because the most recent employment contract expired July 1, AFSCME immediately will begin negotiations with city management if the proposal passes.

“It’s going to allow us the right to bargain with the city management over working conditions, give us a little bit of a voice in the workplace. A little bit of a voice for the citizens of Enid,” Breeze said. “We’re out every day talking to them, hearing their concerns and whatnot. It allows us to go back to management and say what citizens are saying and would like to see.”

Although city employees would act as a union to negotiate personnel issues, they will not have the ability to strike or slowdown. If the city and AFSCME can’t agree to terms, contract negotiations will go into mediation or arbitration.

The reason for organizing into a collective bargaining unit is not about pay, Breeze said. Instead, it’s about letting city employees enjoy the same rights as uniformed police officers and firefighters.

“We’ve never went in asking for big pay raises,” Breeze said, noting a previous period when city employees were unionized. “That’s not what it’s been about. It’s about having the same rights police and fire have to negotiate their working conditions.”

He said he understands employees work for taxpayers, the same taxpayers who pay their wages.

“We want to serve them to the best of our ability. It’s about maintaining the benefits as we got them,” he said.

Those registered to vote within city limits can vote early at the County Election Board 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Polls are open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.