Lakewood workers will take worries to council

Staff writerApril 20, 2014 

Employees at the city of Lakewood who have been without a labor contract since the end of 2012 say they plan to attend a City Council meeting Monday to show frustration with what they call a lack of progress at the negotiating table.

“I hope that when the City Council sees their employees taking a Monday night away from their families in order to make this statement, that they recognize how important it is to their workers,” said Dylan Carlson, a representative of AFSCME Local 1938.

Carlson represents the union that covers approximately 100 employees, a mix of blue- and white-collar employees ranging from road crew workers to engineers. Negotiations started 20 months ago, and progress is taking “a lot longer than it normally takes,” he said.

The union requested mediation last fall, a move sometimes made when one side feels an agreement can’t be reached through face-to-face negotiations. Mediation can take longer because an outside mediator facilitates the process and communicates between parties.

After meeting with the mediator Friday, Lakewood City Attorney Heidi Wachter told a reporter she was surprised to learn of the union’s dissatisfaction.

“It’s just disappointing to hear they’re so negative about what for us has been progressively moving along,” she said. “I don’t get it. I don’t get where it’s coming from.”

The AFSCME contract is the only unresolved labor contract in the city. It expired Dec. 31, 2012, along with three other labor contracts.

The largest agreement ratified to date was a three-year contract with 90 commissioned police officers represented by the Lakewood Police Independent Guild in August 2013. It included consecutive 3 percent pay increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and largely holds the line on employee health care costs.

Although the previous AFSCME contract has expired, its conditions — including health care and merit pay — are still in place, said City Manager John Caulfield.

Carlson wouldn’t discuss the specifics of negotiations but said salary surveys conducted by the city show “a tremendous number of workers are dramatically underpaid.”

“As a consequence they’re leaving to work elsewhere and they’re taking their skills and expertise with them,” he said.

Wachter said she wasn’t aware of a “mass exodus” of staff because of poor pay. She added that salary surveys have also shown some positions significantly higher then similar positions in other cities.

Caulfield also wouldn’t comment on negotiations, but said the city is following the process as outlined under the union’s request for mediation.

“They requested mediation; it wasn’t something the city wanted to do,” he said. “I would prefer to negotiate face to face.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

This story was edited to correct the employees covered by AFSCME Local 1938.

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