Five Fort Dodge City Council members signed a statement indicating that they would honor a municipal employee contract while the workers prepared to leave the United Steel Workers union, prompting complaints from other elected officials that they were cut out of the discussion, officials said Friday at a press conference.
The May 7 statement was signed by Councilmen Kim Alstott, Dean Hill, Robert ”Barney” Patterson, Mark Taylor and Don Wilson. Mayor Matt Bemrich and Councilmen Dave Flattery and Andy Fritz did not sign the statement. All three said they learned about it Thursday.
The statement has ”absolutely no legal significance at all,” according to City Attorney Mark Crimmins. He described the document as ”ambiguous” and added that it had never been voted on by the council.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Don Wilson, a Fort Dodge City Council member, gestures during an exchange with fellow Councilman David Flattery at a press conference called to discuss a document that would have honored a union contract even though the employees left the union. Wilson signed the document. Flattery, who said he was not aware of it until Thursday, did not.
Patterson said Friday that he should not have signed the statement. He said he signed to show his support for the workers’ request to keep the same contract after they joined a different union.
The 54 employees were formerly represented by United Steel Workers Local 11-502. Their separation from the union was effective Thursday, and they are not currently represented by any union.
During Friday afternoon’s press conference, Flattery said the statement on the contract is a symptom of a breach between himself and Fritz and the other members of the council.
”I truly believe this again represents an egregious breach of trust that a select group of council members has committed and continue to practice,” he said. ”We seem to have council members that have their own personal agendas that they want to ramrod through here at the embarrassment of the city.”
Wilson immediately objected to that notion.
”This was not a conspiracy of council people against others,” he said. ”We were approached by these people. It’s not our fault that they did not approach you.”
What led up to the press conference
Here is a timeline of events leading up to Friday’s press conference regarding the decertification of the United Steel Workers Local 11-502.
May 7 – Union members draft a statement saying ”The Fort Dodge City Council agrees to honor the current labor union’s contract.” Councilmen Kim Alstott, Dean Hill, Robert ”Barney” Patterson, Mark Taylor and Don Wilson signed it.
July 5 – Union members file a petition with the Iowa Public Employee Relations Board requesting a vote on decertifying their bargaining unit.
July 11 – Iowa Public Employee Relations Board orders a vote on decertification.
July 16 – Iowa Public Employees Relations Board sends a letter to employees explaining eligibility to vote in the election.
July 27 – United Steel Workers file disclaimer notice with Iowa Public Employee Relations Board, ending its relationship with the local employees.
Thursday – Employees receive a letter from the city stating they are no longer covered by a union contract.
Wilson also denied that Flattery and Fritz were being ”shunned” by the other council members.
”If there’s anybody that’s ever been shunned by the council it was Don Wilson for about six years,” Wilson said. ”I’ve been shunned by the council. I’ve even been told by the city manager that ‘I’ve got enough votes and your vote doesn’t count.”’
He claimed that he was denied information on city issues during much of his decade on the council.
Bemrich replied that Wilson merely had to ask for information to get it.
”If you wanted information and pursued it, you got,” Bemrich said. ”You had to be an active participant.”
He added that he thought it was a ”travesty” for Wilson to claim he was denied information.
No one representing the workers spoke at the press conference. Bemrich said the workers were notified of the conference in advance.
Council members said the May 7 statement was presented to them by Steve Doyle. A phone listing for Doyle couldn’t be found Friday. Attempts to reach Shawn Moritz, who was the union president when the last contract was approved in 2010, were unsuccessful.
The affected workers are public works employees, clerks in the utility billing office, Police Department clerks, parks maintenance workers and plant operators at the John W. Pray Water Facility.
Since they are no longer covered by a union contract, they have been placed into the non-union wage, salary and benefit schedule. Bemrich said that change will cost the city an additional $35,000 a year. He said he did not know how each employee’s pay would be affected.
The document at the heart of the controversy states ”The Fort Dodge City Council agrees to honor the current labor union’s contract.”
Hill, Wilson and Patterson said Doyle brought the statement to them individually and asked them to sign it.
”Back in May I myself was contacted by a member of the USW about the USW union members wanting to change unions for several reasons,” Patterson said.
”He indicated that the existing contract that they are under has one year left on it, and that the members would really like to have that continue with a new union if they chose to do so,” he added.
Patterson said at the time he did not know what was involved in the process of leaving one union and joining another.
”So I based my informal support on the fact that the USW members could automatically and immediately join another union,” he said. ”The representative from the USW didn’t give me any information on whether that process was even possible. He indicated that the USW members didn’t want to decertify without having the support of the majority of the City Council.”
”The paper that I signed personally, and I’m only speaking for myself here, in my opinion was showing my support for them wanting to find new union representation and that if the decertification and reorganization process with a new union allowed, I would support them continuing on with the same contract,” Patterson said.
Hill said he signed the statement to show support for the workers.
”They’re the ones out there doing the job,” he said at the press conference. ”They’re actually the ones making the city officials look good.”
Wilson said he signed the statement ”because of the fact that I wanted them to have the opportunity to change their union.”
Hill and Wilson said they felt no obligation to tell City Manager David Fierke or Jim Vollmer, the city’s human resources director, about the statement.
”My understanding at that time was that would go right to the city manager and the HR person,” Wilson said.
However, it was not presented to those officials until Thursday.
Flattery said he was offended that he and Fritz weren’t told about the statement until Thursday. He said the councilmen who signed the statement ought to apologize to himself, Fritz, Bemrich, Fierke and Vollmer.
He added that the situation is part of a ”pattern of micromanagment” that has arisen since a new majority took over the council following the 2011 election. That majority includes Alstott, Hill, Patterson, Taylor and Wilson.
”We are on the cusp of a huge economic growth in this community and we’re following this petty agenda,” he said.
Flattery said he would not have signed the document and added that he would have consulted with Fierke if it was presented to him.
He said council members can’t sign things on behalf of the city. He said only the mayor, or in the mayor’s absence, the mayor pro tem, can do that.
Fritz, who was not at the press conference, said Friday evening that he learned of the statement Thursday when Vollmer told him about it.
”My first reaction was disbelief,” he said.
”Time and time again, Mr. Flattery and I have told these gentlemen that we’re tired of them meeting without us,” he said.
Fritz, who was elected in 2009, said some of the council members elected last year accused the governing body of ”backroom dealings” during the election campaign. Now they appear to be engaging in such dealings themselves, he said.
Calls seeking comment from Alstott and Taylor weren’t returned Friday.