City workers may consider union

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By Pat Hibbs

Some Williston workers are being urged to unionize.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, describes itself as ?the nation?s largest and fastest growing public service employees union.?

Recently, AFSCME sent postcards to about 40 members of the city staff, excluding police officers and firefighters, asking if they were interested in discussing the possibility of a union local in the city. According to Florida law, a positive response from a specific percentage of those contacted permits a union to begin its organizing activities; the response from city employees met that criterion.

AFSCME members have mounted a concerted effort to convince the eligible employees that belonging to the union would be beneficial, even sending union representatives to visit staff members at home on weekends to convince them of the benefits of joining.

The city administration believes that city employees have nothing to gain from joining a union - except a $30-$40 dues deduction per paycheck. The employees are well compensated, according to city manager Jim Coleman, compared to comparable jobs in the private sector. The staff received a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment in October, as mandated annually in the city?s budget. Each employee receives an annual review and, if warranted, a merit increase. They enjoy 12 holidays per year.

Coleman will hold meetings with small groups of employees to discuss the matter of unionization with them. He will focus on the benefits and the drawbacks of imposing a union shop on the city. He says that he will stress that each eligible employee must vote - yea or nay - on the proposal by the union.

The majority of those who vote determine the outcome; if only five eligible people vote, and three of them vote yes, the union is established for all employees who are eligible, triggering membership in the union for the whole group. Thus, not voting may count as a vote for unionization.

No one, however, is obligated to become a member of the union if it is approved, according to one employee.

Although AFSCME has 1.4 million members throughout the United States, its presence in Florida is largely limited to the southern part of the state.

There is a local in DeFuniak Springs in the Panhandle, and city employees of Jacksonville are members, as are those in Daytona Beach. Otherwise, the union?s greatest influence is found in the southern counties, with a large membership in the Miami-Dade area.