As a result of intervention by the St. Louis Labor Council and the St. Louis Building Trades Council, the City of St. Louis has withdrawn an offensive form mandating potential new St. Louis city employees acknowledge they could lose pay and benefits at the whim of the city.
The controversial Benefits Acknowledgement Form will be rewritten to labor’s satisfaction with input from a respected labor attorney Sally Barker with the firm of Schuchat, Cook & Werner, said Bob Soutier, president, St. Louis Labor Council after an early morning meeting Feb. 18 with Mayor Francis Slay.
“To be clear, it is not the intent of the form to change any benefits or any rights… (and) does not signify or create any changes in benefits or the collective bargaining process,” Mayor Slay wrote Soutier after the meeting, confirming in writing what he told Soutier, St. Louis Building Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Aboussie and St. Louis Police Officers Association Business Manager Jeff Roorda, who both attended the meeting.
A firestorm was created in mid-January when this new form was introduced quietly without the knowledge of any of the dozen unions that represent workers in the City. Some 20 new fire fighter recruits were required to sign the form before they began training.
The form was initially viewed as retaliation against Fire Fighters Local 73 and the Fire Fighters Pension Fund trustees who are in a major legal battle with the City over its efforts to unilaterally change the union’s pension and disability benefits. That struggle also included an effort by the City to eliminate the current pension plan and substitute one more to the City’s liking with lower benefits. All the City’s efforts to date have been stalled by the courts pending a trial next month.
“The form does not modify any benefits or rights, nor will it affect any collective bargaining policies or procedures, nor does it change anything else,” said Mayor Slay, “it simply restates- very poorly- existing law.”
The mayor noted that all agreements with City employee unions are ultimately turned into ordinances that protect employees’ rights and benefits.
In a press conference held Feb. 18 on the steps of City Hall, Carpenters Business Representative JoAnn Williams called for the mayor to retract the form, charging that it was introducing right-to-work (for less) type tactics into the City’s relationship with its employees. She was unaware that they mayor had already agreed with the union leadership meeting earlier that morning to do just that.
In his letter, Mayor Slay made it clear that he is totally against current efforts in the Missouri legislature to pass the phony right-to-work (for less) bill whose only goal is to weaken, then destroy labor unions.
“I will proudly stand next to you to fight for what is right for our state and for our workers, and oppose so-called right to work,” the mayor said.
The truth is, Missouri is an “at will” employment state meaning that an employer can fire a worker at any time without a reason, unless there is a union contract which spells out that a company must have a legitimate reason for a firing and even then the union contract provides a process allowing the employee to challenge such action.
GREAT ORGANIZING TOOL
“The truth is, this form provides our unions with a great organizing tool,” Soutier said after the meeting with Mayor Slay. “While the City can mess with benefits and conditions of employees who are not union members, they can’t do anything with union members who have a contract without first going thru the collective bargaining process and both sides agreeing to any changes.
“This is something our unions can use to organize non-union workers. As the mayor has reiterated, union contracts are put into ordinances and have the force of law, so there’s little reason why anyone would not want to be represented by one of the 12 unions that represent city employees,” Soutier added.