Havre Daily News
Public works union members on Wednesday tentatively approved a change to a labor contract provision that would allow workers to switch to a different time schedule in summer months to assist with projects such as the Montana Department of Transportation's massive First Street reconstruction effort, set to begin in 2007.
City Council member Terry Schend, who headed the negotiations with public works union representatives last year, said today that the union had tentatively approved the agreement in a vote Wednesday night. Local union officials could not be reached for comment today, and a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said he did not yet know the result of the vote.
A provision was included in the contract, which the City Council approved last week, that would have allowed two city service employees to work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer months, when other employees work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Union members agreed to delete part of the provision, eliminating the language about the employees working the later shift, Schend said. He said the city and union will work to draft a written agreement by early next week, one that would set forth a process for management and workers to negotiate how many employees would work the later shift, based on the city's needs at any given time.
“Hopefully, that will bring about more communication between managment and labor,” Schend said.
At the Feb. 21 City Council meeting, Havre Mayor Bob Rice raised concerns over the old contract language, and said he was unsure whether two city workers would be enough to assist him when MDT begins to completely reconstruct First Street. When he heard that the city and union had a verbal agreement to use more workers as needed, he said the agreement needed to be in writing.
He reiterated those concerns in an interview Wednesday:
“I want it more specific,” he said. “I want to know what I've got and what I'm going to get.
“Any number of things can happen” during the First Street project, Rice added. “(Businesses) need to know I'm going to take care of it for them.”
Schend said the old provision was too vague, and it could have created problems down the road.
“That whole provision is subject to interpretation,” he said.
Rice said he wants an agreement from the union that will give him the workers he needs, when he needs them.
“I don't intend on abusing that,” he added.
AFSCME representative Pete Parsons agreed that the contract item needed to be changed.
“I think what the mayor's trying to do is clear up a potential problem,” he said. “It was vague. The contract language was actually pretty specific, but didn't address any flexibility.
“There needs to be a written agreement,” he added. “That's fair. I think that addresses any fluid situation,” like the MDT project.
The city and public works union have worked since last March to draft and approve the two-year labor contract.