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Tacoma: City employee labor union sues city, claiming Broadnax’s budget plan violates contracts, labor laws

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
October 25, 2012 7:23 pm

A city-employee labor union sued the City of Tacoma Thursday, claiming City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s budget plan that seeks to reorganize several city departments and eliminate scores of jobs violates various laws, due process rights and collective bargaining agreements.

The lawsuit – filed in Pierce County Superior Court by Teamsters Local 117 – also requests a judge to issue an  order restraining the city “from proceeding to implement any reorganization, layoff or other action detrimental to City of Tacoma employees” in the Public Works and Public Assembly Facilities Departments.

Local 117 represents about 250 city workers, including about 70 public works and facilities employees now facing layoffs.

“If this matter is not addressed before the unlawful layoffs are implemented, City of Tacoma employees stand to have their due process rights violated, lose employment, health and welfare benefits, retirement benefits, and have their lives unnecessarily and wrongfully disrupted in a way that cannot be fully remedied,” the lawsuit states.

The suit separately names as defendants the city, Broadnax and his wife, “because all acts undertaken by Broadnax that are the subject of this litigation were undertaken on behalf of the marital community.”

City spokeswoman Gwen Schuler declined comment in an e-mail sent Thursday, saying the city’s practice is not to speak about pending litigation.

Earlier this month, Broadnax unveiled his 2013-14 general fund budget plan amid a projected shortfall of $63 million over the next two years. The two-year plan calls to cut 217 city positions, reduce a wide range of city services and reorganize several departments.

Shouldering the brunt of proposed cutbacks is the Public Works Department, which faces reductions of 79 positions and a massive restructuring. Broadnax seeks to remove all three general government utilities and the city’s Community Based Services program from Public Works, placing them into two newly created departments.

Broadnax has said his plan to “reset” Tacoma’s general fund is necessary to correct past unsustainable budget practices and to put Tacoma on firm financial footing going forward. Several city council members so far have praised him for his budget direction.

The proposal is now undergoing a series of public workshops, before the council is expected to vote on a final version in December.

The lawsuit contends Broadnax’s reorganization plan — some of which is already underway – constitutes a “unilateral action” that violates city code, collective bargaining provisions and labor laws that dictate he should have sought to negotiate the restructuring with the union.

Among other claims, the suit also argues the city manager’s layoff plan subverts an established seniority system and other provisions detailed in union contracts by attempting to create, without bargaining, an “on-call system” with reduced hours for certain city employees.

Union officials have sent letters demanding city officials bargain the issues and seeking more financial information, the suit states.

“To date, none of the requested information has been provided and the City has not bargained with the Union,” it says.

Aside from the lawsuit, Local 117 this week separately filed an unfair labor practices complaint that raises similar issues with the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission. The union’s lawyer also sent a warning letter to Broadnax.

Local 117 General Counsel Spencer Thal wrote in the Oct. 24 letter he was putting Broadnax “on notice regarding numerous violations of law by the City of Tacoma and its managers in connection with City plans to reorganize and departments and lay off City employees.”

The letter also asserts city managers have been intimidating workers to not publicly speak out against Broadnax’s budget proposal.

Managers have incorrectly informed employees they have no right to petition the City Council about the budget plan, have warned employees to be “cautious” about raising concerns to their union, and have erroneously told workers they could face city ethics code violations if they publicly raise concerns, the letter states.

“These actions by city managers are wholly improper and are designed to intimidate and chill employees in the exercise of their rights in violation of State Law,” Thal wrote.

Such intimidation by management “already has had a chilling effect,” Tracey Thompson, a lawyer who also serves as Local 117’s secretary/treasurer, said Thursday.

When the union tried to organize a large group of workers to raise their concerns at a recent City Council meeting, only one shop steward showed up, she said.“Everyone else said, `we’re afraid we’re going to get in trouble,” Thompson said.

The union’s letter demanded Broadnax correct the situation by informing all city employees of their rights to engage in union activity, to petition council members and to otherwise exercise free speech.

“We asked him to come out and affirmatively assure that the City of Tacoma’s workers do have the same rights that any other citizen has,” Thompson said. “We haven’t had any kind of response.”

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