More than 175 union members and Bloomington residents crammed into the City Council chambers Monday night, urging the council to quit wasting taxpayer money, quit using stall tactics, and start negotiating a contract with 23 parks workers, who have been waiting since April to have the city recognize their decision to join AFSCME. “Dragging this out any longer with frivolous litigation is inexcusable,” Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide told the council. The city already has lost three legal rulings. But Bloomington continues challenging those rulings in court, in hopes it can define the bargaining unit its way, not the way current law allows. If the city wins, it could overturn 40 years of precedent and restrict public-sector organizing statewide.
Union members, residents express anger
The bigger threat is why union members showed up in force – not just from AFSCME, but from across the labor movement. The standing-room-only crowd included members of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, St. Paul and Minneapolis regional labor federations, MAPE, Minnesota Nurses Association, Bloomington Federation of Teachers, UFCW, UNITE-HERE, SEIU, Letter Carriers, and Working America.
Residents of Bloomington were angry at the city’s tactics for other reasons. “I ask this body, ‘How much taxpayer money has been spent to date on outside attorneys and how much more of our taxpayer money are you planning to spend to stop these hard-working men from having a voice?’” said Jo Ann Wolf, president-elect of the city’s Highland Creek Association.
Resident Jean Ross, who is a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, also urged the council to honor the democratic process and to quit wasting money. “We know this for what it is,” she said. “They’re delaying tactics. They’re deliberate…. Once it’s been decided, and you continue to appeal and appeal and appeal, we look at and will continue to look at it as a deliberate delaying tactic.”
City delays for 7 months – and counting
The city has been fighting its parks workers for seven months over who should and should not be in the bargaining unit. The city believes the bargaining unit should cover the entire public works department, not just parks maintenance workers. But the state Bureau of Mediation Services, following 40 years of precedent in state labor law, says the parks department is an appropriate bargaining unit. It authorized the election, in which workers voted to join AFSCME.
The workers originally filed with the BMS for an election in April. But the city’s tactics delayed a vote until September. Along the way, the city lost, appealed, and lost again. Even after the workers voted, the city went to court to impound the ballots, which delayed things for another month.
Now the city is again appealing in court and, on Monday night, Mayor Gene Winstead defiantly told the crowd Bloomington would continue to appeal as long as necessary: “It could go either way and be appealed in many different ways. So we’re going to see that out…. That’s the reality of this.”
One of the parks workers, Greg Drangstveit, urged the council to respect the workers’ decision to organize: “We ask that you drop this appeal and move forward with us in a positive, productive negotiation process.”
Council 5’s Seide said the city’s stance makes no sense, especially since it has negotiated successfully for decades with AFSCME Local 2828, which represents about 50 professional employees who work for the city.
“Taking this to court is a waste of everyone’s time, in which the city will once again lose,” Seide said. “The city’s counsel has had three chances to make its case, and was unsuccessful every time. We believe it’s now time to move on. The democratic process has worked, now let the collective bargaining process work.”