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Santa Rosa city employees may seek large union ally

Frustrated by the lack of progress at the bargaining table, the largest labor group representing Santa Rosa's city employees may align with a national union to give itself more firepower in negotiations with the city.

The board of the Santa Rosa City Employees Association is recommending its more than 400 members align with a national labor organization like the Teamsters or American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

The workers SRCEA represents, including administrative assistants, inspectors, analysts and engineers, haven't had raises for several years. Negotiations with the city have been going on for eight months, and workers have been out of contract since July 1.

"We're contemplating what would be best for the organization and the members we represent," union president Mike Reynolds said.

Since the economic downturn, labor negotiations with the city have taken on "a more adversarial and controversial tone," Reynolds wrote in a letter to members.

That has required more time and effort on the part of the union. The union declared an impasse with the city three months ago. Mediation efforts failed. The main issue separating the two sides is salary increases, Reynolds said.

The union has since called for "fact-finding," an additional and potentially costly step allowed under Assembly Bill 646.

That process is scheduled to get underway in January. It would be the first time a city labor group invoked the process since the law was passed in 2011, according to Fran Elm, the city's human resources director.

The process involves selecting a three-member panel, including a neutral fact finder and one representative each from the city and the union, Elm explained. Witnesses including compensation experts can be called to testify. The fact finders' recommendation is publicly made to the City Council, Elm said.

She said the city is in "preparation mode" to make sure it has all the information the panel might need.


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