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Meet and Confer legislation

 

Subject: Meet and Confer legislation 

 

Objective: Oppose any “meet and confer” process for municipal employees of the City of San Antonio. The Chamber believes that the current process of negotiation between the City and its employees serves the City and its employees well and therefore should not be modified. 

 

BACKGROUND: 

 

Current Legislation 

 

Under State law, governmental entities such as the City of San Antonio are prohibited from recognizing a labor union as the bargaining agent for its employees and from engaging in collective bargaining with labor unions over the wages, hours or conditions of employment of its employees. In 1973, however, the State made a public policy exception by passing the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act (referred to as Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code). Chapter 174 granted police officers and firefighters the right to organize and bargain collectively with their public employer so long as a referendum was held and a majority of the voters agreed to adopt the Act. The State thereafter passed a civil service provision for municipal police officers and firefighters (referred to as Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code) and then granted "meet and confer" rights (as opposed to mandatory collective bargaining under Chapter 174) to a number of different municipal police officers and firefighters whose municipal voters had not adopted either Chapter 174 or Chapter 143. Finally, in 2005, the State passed an Act granting "meet and confer" rights to all City of Houston employees (referred to as Chapter 146 of the Texas Local Government Code). 

 

During the 80th (2007) Legislative Session, the Service Employees International Union (referred to as SEIU) asked State Representative Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) to file a bill that was identical to Chapter 146 that would apply to the City of San Antonio. Although the bill did not pass, there was some local support for SEIU’s effort from members of Bexar County’s Legislative Delegation. 

 

Although there is no formal “meet and confer” process for non-peace officer civilian employees in the City of San Antonio, the City is nonetheless required by state law to allow its employees to present grievances concerning their wages, hours of employment, or conditions of work either individually or through a labor union so long as that union does not claim the right to strike (referred to as Section 617.005 of the Texas Labor Code). Section 617.005 provides a process that if utilized correctly, gives city employees a powerful voice to address any work related concerns they may have over their employment. 

In preparation for the 81st (2009) Legislative Session, on October 16, 2008 the San Antonio City Council voted in favor of supporting a “meet and confer” process for civilian (non-police officer and firefighter) employees within its Legislative Agenda. Last month, State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon filed House Bill 3686 while State Senator Carlos Uresti filed companion Senate Bill 2446 that allow for a "meet and confer" process between the City of San Antonio and its civilian employees. While the proposed “meet and confer” process does not obligate the City to bargain, if House Bill 3686 or Senate Bill 2446 passes, the legislation will establish a mechanism for employees to formally negotiate their wages and conditions of employment not unlike the collective bargaining process currently utilized by the City for its police officers and firefighters. The legislation also requires the City to sign a binding contract if an agreement is reached and ratified by covered employees. This could possibly result in a multi-year financially binding agreement, similar to what police officers and firefighters negotiate. 

The proposed bills exclude more than 1,000 City employees including part-time, temporary, confidential, non-civil service (at-will), managerial, department heads and City Management employees. It also excludes SAWS and CPS employees. 

 

Federal Background 

 

The federal legislation known as the National Labor Relations Act (referred to as the NLRA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1935. The NLRA specifically excluded governmental entities and thus was limited to "private sector" employees who were given the right to organize through a labor union, have the union negotiate and bargain on their behalf and if necessary, strike in order to gain concessions at the bargaining table. The passage of this controversial act was assisted by the economic crisis that the country found itself in at the time, along with the fact that President Roosevelt was an ardent supporter of the Act. Under the NLRA, unions such as the AFL-CIO, UAW, Teamsters and Longshoremen gained power and influence, resulting in the unionization of thousands of companies across many industries. Since the NLRA was limited to private sector employees public sector employees’ only options were for individual states to pass laws allowing for such organizing or for Congress to amend the Act (which has not occurred). 

 

State Background 

 

Texas has been an at will/right to work state for more than 100 years. The Texas Supreme Court first announced the at-will employment rule in 1888 (East Line R.R.R. v. Scott), clarifying that if a person is hired for an indefinite term (e.g. no written contract), the employment relationship could be terminated at will by either party. Subsequently, in 1947 the Texas Legislature codified the right to work principle (referred to as Section 101.052 of the Texas Labor Code), clarifying that under the Texas Labor Code a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labor union or other labor organization. That same year, the Legislature passed a statute that outright banned any type of collective bargaining between political subdivisions and labor organizations (referred to Section 617.001 of the Texas Government Code). Section 617.001 also prohibited public employees from engaging in strikes or any type of organized work stoppages. 

 

Local Background 

 

In addition to Section 617.005 of the Texas Labor Code, there are currently numerous avenues for city employees to discuss and provide input on their wages and conditions of employment. 

In 2004, the City of San Antonio established the employee management consultation (EMC) process by ordinance to discuss employment issues that affect all city employees. The committee is made up of representatives from the City Manager’s office, the Human Resources office, unions such as SEIU and National Association of Public Employees (NAPE), employees and other department directors on a rotating basis. The EMC has been instrumental in the development of the City’s step-based pay plan, a revised attendance policy. Each year the Committee has a presence in reviewing and providing input on benefit changes. 

 

Additionally, the City Charter provides certain employees with civil service protection. Those covered employees have the right to appeal demotions, suspensions and terminations to the Municipal Civil Service Commission. Employees can be represented by a union at their commission appeal hearing. 

Employees who want to register a complaint regarding dissatisfaction with some other employment condition (other than demotion, suspension, terminations) may file a grievance as outlined in the Municipal Civil Service Rules. Again, employees may utilize union representation when presenting their grievance to City management. Although there are more than 6,000 civilian city employees eligible to participate in a union, approximately 800 are affiliated with a union. SEIU has the largest membership (700 members). 

 

Many of the benefits that could be obtained through meet and confer already exist through the avenues explained above, specifically the EMC process. More importantly, unlike meet and confer, personnel policies, directives and pay scales can be modified based on current economic at the discretion of the local governing body. Meet and confer on the other hand injects the State legislature process into the rules and guidelines affecting the city’s employer/ employee discussions. 

 

By way of example, the San Antonio Police Department and the San Antonio Fire Department collective bargaining agreements were put into place in the late 1970’s. Today our police and fire fighters enjoy the best pre-funded retiree health care system in the country. Combined, SAPD and SAFD make up 57 percent of the City of San Antonio FY2009 General Fund budget. These amounts can only be expected to increase in the years to come despite the continued possibility of a prolonged economic downturn and resulting budget shortfalls.