Police, firefighters gain right to meet and confer
By BRAD ROLLINS -
Thursday, Feb 09, 2006 - 04:02:05 pm CST
The city's police and firefighters associations will
represent employees in “meet and confer” negotiations starting this year
following their formal recognition by the city council this week.
More than 90 percent of firefighters and 78 percent of
police officers signed a petition asking leaders to designate the groups as the
exclusive bargaining agents for those departments' rank-and-file employees.
Council members voted unanimously to extend the
recognition, but not without some voicing concern that the process could become
political and polarizing.
With an eye on Austin
where meet and confer was used for years before the law allowed it in most
other cities, some members said they feared salary demands could strain the
a great relationship with police and firefighters and I don't expect that to
change. But things do change,” Mayor Susan Narvaiz
said. “...If it gets to the point where we meet with you and you're asking us
to make decisions that aren't fair to other employees, it's important for you
to know we can undo it.”
The associations' officers said major wage and work
condition grievances were not the catalysts for their efforts.
“There aren't issues or concerns we have where we feel
we're being treated unfairly,” said Daniel Arredondo, the San Marcos Police
Officers Association president. “We just want the opportunity to sit and talk.
It doesn't mean we have to agree.”
James Frye, the San Marcos Professional Firefighter
Association president, echoed the cooperative tone. He said his group's issues
center on “operational and structural” topics such as civil service system
under which hiring and promotions are tied to performance on a general aptitude
“We just want to take our relationship to the council to
the next step,” Frye said. “This is just another avenue of communication.”
Since 1949, it has been illegal for governing bodies to
bargain with employee associations or unions. There have long been exceptions
for police and fire employees in large cities, but a law passed by the
Legislature last year extends the option to smaller departments.
The discussions aren't binding on decision makers but the
change does represent something of a modest innovation in a state that has
traditionally sought to limit the influence of labor unions, especially in the
Eleven cities have adopted meet and confer negotiations
since Sept. 1, said Frank Sturzl, the Texas Municipal
League executive director. He said the system allows communication without the
regimented proceedings - and binding arbitration - common to collective
“Collective bargaining comes along with the requirement
that you must bargain and if you reach an impasse, it gets decided by third
party. It's not what I would call a come-let-us-reason approach,” Sturzl said. “This presents an opportunity for employees to
sit down with the council and be heard out.”
Copyright © 2006, San Marcos Daily Record
All rights reserved.
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