City workers could lose union if Oklahoma legislature approves - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

City workers could lose union if Oklahoma legislature approves

LAWTON, Okla. - The union that many city of Lawton employees worked very hard to get could soon be a thing of the past. An Oklahoma House Committee voted Wednesday to remove the Municipal Employees' Collective Bargaining Act, which has been in place for about five years. If removed, Oklahoma cities with populations more than 35,000 would no longer be required to recognize and arbitrate with unions other than police and firefighter unions.

In November of 2004, city employees gathered and celebrated what they considered a victory by finally establishing a union. Since then, they say they've seen improvements.

"We solved some major problems including our pension problem and we'd hate to see that go away the right for our employees to have a say in the workplace," said Lawton Union President Jim Maroon.

It's a say the city said employees had before the union when the city had an advisory committee with workers from the different departments.

"If it hadn't been discussed with the advisory committee, then the council wouldn't consider it, so the employees had a voice. They had a committee. They had a group," said City Manager Larry Mitchell.

Now, he said arbitration is lengthy. The last contract took a year and a half. Plus, he said it's problematic because the union represents so many different city jobs with different interests. He said the law has mandated the negotiation process to be a very formal one.

"We used to have a group that went out and played golf. I can't do that anymore. We used to have a lot more informal discussions about issues. I can't do that anymore. I can't talk to an employee unless we're at a negotiation session if we're talking about wage and benefits," said Mitchell.

Union supporters said if they lost the union, they'd lose the ground they've already made and they don't want to go back to the way it was without.

"For me personally, I believe that a happy worker is a good worker and the morale has gone up in the city of Lawton I believe because the employees have their say," said Maroon.

7News talked to several city workers that fall under the required union and the union got mixed reviews. Some are strong supporters, but most said they haven't seen a difference the union has made for them. Some said it's costing them more. Some workers said the union is in its early stages and if people would give it time, they will see the success the police and fire department have with unions.

The city also said having a union takes power away from city council by giving them less control over budget decisions relating to workers' wages and benefits.

The repeal still has to pass through the Oklahoma House and Senate to become law.

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