City, union asking Lawrence City Commission to settle contract dispute

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The City of Lawrence and the union representing city staff members working in the municipal services and parks and recreation departments are asking the Lawrence City Commission to settle disagreements on their first labor contract. 

The city and the union, Teamsters Local 696 Group 6, have been unable to reach an agreement on three issues before the end of their contract negotiation period. Two of them have to do with increased pay, and one is related to contract grievance resolution.

“The parties presented their final proposals to a fact finder on Friday, Sept. 15, and subsequently met to resume negotiations but did not reach a resolution,” according to a news release from the city. 

The City Commission scheduled a hearing on the issue for its meeting set for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21 at City Hall. 

Teamsters Local 696 Secretary-Treasurer Matt Hall said that the union’s demands align with many other similar labor groups in the region.

The employees are asking for binding arbitration for grievances, a process where worker grievances are taken to a third party that resolves the dispute. Currently, worker grievances are resolved by the city manager.

“We need someone independent, a third party, a lot of times to make sure that both sides are being heard and to make a fair and even ruling if we have disagreements,” Hall said. “And that’s what we’re asking for. The city just wants to completely unilaterally make decisions about how the contract gets enforced right now. And we feel that there are times when an independent third party is warranted.”

Hall said that asking for this process is standard for many labor unions, including lots of other public sector workers in the area, including workers in the Lawrence school district, Topeka and Shawnee County. 

“It’s really the standard and the basic standard for labor rights in this country. And I think it’s unfortunate the city is pushing back on it,” Hall said.  

In addition to the grievance process, the union has also requested additional time off for workers who complete work outside of their normal duty as well as for essential workers who do their jobs even when the city has deemed it unsafe to work, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the negotiating process, the City has been working closely with our employee group representatives and we are proud of the progress we have made with the Teamsters,” Megan Dodge, director of human resources for the city, said in the release. “We remain committed to developing an agreement that is both fair for everyone at Team Lawrence, while recognizing the specific needs of this work group.”

Teamsters Local 696 is the union representation of multiple other City of Lawrence employee groups. Group 6 is a newly established bargaining group and is in the process of negotiating its first memorandum of understanding with the city.

“The commissioners have a clear decision to make,” Hall said. “To stand with workers in the state and by upholding strong labor law rights or to not.”

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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