State PERB rules in union’s favor
The bid by city of Enid employees to form a union, ongoing since 2003, came closer to fruition Thursday.
After an hour-and-a-half hearing Thursday morning, the three-member Oklahoma Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) voted unanimously to allow union membership cards submitted in 2004 by non-uniformed city employees to stand, rejecting a request by Enid city officials that new membership cards be filled out this year.
PERB’s administrative clerk was in the process late Thursday of counting the 2004 union cards and comparing the signed cards to a list of city employees. If the count determines more than 50 percent of the city’s non-uniformed employees want to join a union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will be certified as bargaining agent.
If PERB certifies the union, City Attorney Carol Lahman said, the city will “await a letter from their representatives asking to begin bargaining. Then we will begin talking about non-economic issues, since we have the budget set up for this year.”
In 2003, Oklahoma Legislature passed a law allowing non-union employees in communities of 35,000 or more to collectively bargain. Because the city challenged the law, no action was taken by PERB on the membership cards submitted by workers in 2004. In July 2005, the state Supreme Court ruled the population limit made it special legislation, and therefore illegal. However, the court reversed itself in March and ruled the law was constitutional. That’s when Enid officials decided to drop their legal fight.
“When the employees filed those cards in 2004, the city stopped the clock by filing a lawsuit,” said Blaine Rummel, spokesman for AFSCME in Oklahoma. “When the clock is stopped and the referees are deliberating, you can’t move the ball 20 yards downfield and restart the clock. That’s what the city of Enid was trying to do.”
If PERB certifies the union, said Enid City Manager Jerry Erwin, the city will proceed with negotiations.
“Once the certification comes down from PERB the city council and the city will begin work,” said Erwin. “That work is negotiation and writing up a contract. It will take some time to do that. We will start from scratch, from ground zero.”
Lahman presented the city’s arguments before the three-member PERB, while Norman employment law attorney Sue Wycoff represented AFSCME and city employees.
“I kind of expected this,” said Enid Mayor Ernie Currier of the PERB’s’ ruling. “I can’t say I am surprised. That is the way they decided, and we will certainly live with it.
“Some municipal workers are accusing us of still doing battle. That’s not what we’re doing. We are doing due diligence, making sure it happens the right way.”
Erwin said the PERB’s decision, even though it didn’t go in the city’s favor, came as something of a relief.
“We have been up and down and all around,” said Erwin. “We are just kind of pleased to get it all behind us.”
By Jeff Mullin Senior Writer