Youngstown moves to implement new pact for street workers forcibly
YOUNGSTOWN — With the street department union rejecting what both sides say was the city’s “last, best and final” contract offer, the administration is moving toward asking city council to forcibly implement the provisions.
“The city told me at the last bargaining session that they’d ask city council to implement it if it’s voted down by the membership,” said Steven Anzevino, president of the Teamsters Local 377, which represents the street department union employees. “Hopefully, they return to the bargaining table. I gave them dates we’re available to bargain. Instead, the city told us they’re going to implement it.”
The union rejected that “last, best and final” offer Monday by a 22-1 vote, he said.
Law Director Jeff Limbian said Tuesday: “Over the next 24 hours, the administration will be reaching out to all seven individual council members to update them and ask for their guidance and input.”
He declined further comment.
Council members are expected today or Thursday to get the proposed legislation for their next meeting, July 27. That legislation packet could include a request to vote on the street department contract provisions in opposition to the union’s vote.
WILL THEY STRIKE?
Anzevino didn’t dismiss the possibility of the union going on strike if council implements the contract, but said, “That is a conversation with the membership for a different time.”
If the city doesn’t want to bargain further, he said, “A decision will have to be made by the street department workers.”
The union members will have an informational picket in front of city hall next Monday after their shift ends at 3 p.m.
“We will do picketing, and we want the city to get back to the table,” Anzevino said.
The union has worked without a contract since Dec. 31.
The final offer was presented to the union July 7. That proposal called for 2.5 percent annual raises for this year as well as 2023 and 2024, Anzevino said, though it wasn’t retroactive to the beginning of 2022. The percentages are in line with what the city has given in new contracts to other unions.
Also, the city proposed raising the hourly wage for an entry-level laborer or driver from $13.94 an hour to $16 an hour and increasing it to $16.75 an hour for those who have Class A or B driver’s licenses, Anzevino said.
That would be an increase in starting wages of 14.8 percent and 20.2 percent for those with the specialty licenses. When the city approved new contracts with the fire and police patrol unions earlier this year, it increased the starting pay by 46 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
“We understand they do pattern bargaining and why they do it, but the union still believes the wages are undermarket,” Anzevino said.
The highest-paid worker in the street union collects $21.33 per hour.
Though wages are an important issue, those related to staffing levels, vacation time and sick leave “are huge,” Anzevino said.
The street department has 24 employees, including 18 to 19 who can drive snowplows, he said. Seven years ago, the department had 36 workers.
“They have a staffing issue due to the wages, which is having a negative effect on the quality of life of our members,” Anzevino said.
It also takes up to four days to plow the city’s streets because there are 1,100 lane miles in the city and so few employees who can plow, he said.
Because of the low staffing level, the city wants to restrict vacation time and remove overtime pay if a street department worker has to report off work because of being sick, Anzevino said.
The city wants to eliminate vacation time during the months of December, January and February — when snow removal is at its highest need — except to permit it when the forecast doesn’t call for snow, Anzevino said. That exception would mean vacation time could be scheduled only a few days in advance, he said.
The current contract also gives discretion to city management for vacation during the rest of the year and with staffing at such low levels. Anzevino said that could mean street department workers wouldn’t get any vacation time or at least have it strictly limited.
“Because the employer is having trouble recruiting and retaining quality employees they want to impact the current employees,” he said. “They wouldn’t give me anything concrete to say they wouldn’t eliminate vacation time. The city has a use-it-or-lose-it policy for vacations. The city wouldn’t pay the workers for it at the end of the year. That’s not fair.”
The city also requires some street department employees to work 12-hour days for 21 days straight in the winter.
The city wants to eliminate overtime for workers if they take a sick day during a pay period, Anzevino said. Without vacation time and having to work 21 days straight, a worker is bound to be exhausted and if he takes a sick day, the overtime is lost, he said.
“It may be acceptable in a normal department, but this isn’t a normal department,” Anzevino said. “With the city taking away vacation time and providing days off, they want to punish their employees for working hard,” he said.
The union has proposed allowing a few employees to take vacation in the winter and to permit it during the nine other months, Anzevino said, and the city “shut the door” on that request.
Dan Watson, a street department worker, said, “The city of Youngstown saying, ‘We’re done negotiating’ — we feel that’s a slap in the face. The city is trying to remove provisions from the contract that provide better benefits, so we need to return to bargaining and hash this out because it isn’t over.”