AFSCME members march on Salem City Council

SALEM - City of Salem employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2067 - frustrated after six months of fruitless bargaining with the city over a new contract - took their case directly to the City Council July 24.

More than 300 persons (in a 600-member bargaining unit) staged a rally to coincide with the Salem City Council meeting. Among the speakers was City Councilor-elect Anna Braun. Local 2067 endorsed Braun and helped her win a seat outright in the May primary election; unfortunately for the local, Braun's term does not begin until Jan. 1. But she offered words of encouragement and made it clear that Local 2067 will have a friend on the council once she is sworn in next year.

Union officials said members are fed up with the city dragging its feet in negotiations. It took six months for the city to give the union a money proposal on July 6, and when it finally came, there was virtually no money for most employees in the city's "money proposal," said Union Representative Kurt Willcox.

While there are many areas of concern, Willcox said the biggest obstacles to a new contract are city proposals that include: Reductions in health benefits; a less than 1 percent (0.85) cost-of-living general salary adjustment; failure to bring wages for most city jobs up to the average of comparable jurisdictions; taking away overtime pay after 8 hours per day of work; eliminating advance notice of temporary schedule changes; and refusing to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a city holiday unless employees drop an existing "floating" holiday.

"All of these issues, and others, are unacceptable," said Willcox. "We are seeing no movement from the city, even as circumstances change. For example, six months ago the city predicted its health insurance premiums would rise 25 percent. Now, they admit there will be no immediate premium increases, yet they still want to cut health care benefits.

Willcox said the city's chief negotiator told union negotiators that his hands were tied by the City Council.

So, members took their case directly to the council. Once the regular council meeting began the throng marched through the chambers, where they demonstrated for about 10 minutes. Later, bargaining team members Sonny Mauldin and Dwayne Flemings addressed the council directly, asking for the city to bargain in good faith.

Willcox said the rally was in essence Local 2067 taking him up on a suggestion that the employees plead their case directly to the council.

July 21, 2000 issue

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