Mystery surrounds new city labor union

December 7, 2018

During the summer, David City employees voted to form a labor union affiliated with the Lincoln-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1536. Negotiations between the city and the union have been ongoing ever since.

But for many in local government, the details behind the union’s formation, purpose and structure remain murky.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” David City Mayor Alan Zavodny said about the union.

Council member Dana “Skip” Trowbridge said union representatives won’t tell the city how many of its own employees are union members. He said no one on the city council outside of the mayor has had any contact with union representatives, and everything he knows about it is second hand.

“It’s kind of mysterious,” Trowbridge said. “We all want to be represented by it, but no one wants to talk about it.”

The two local union representatives are Power Plant Supervisor Eric Betzen and Water/Sewer Supervisor Travis Hays, Zavodny and Trowbridge said. When asked to speak about the unionization by The Banner-Press, both Betzen and Hays declined to comment.

City Clerk and Treasurer Joan Kovar said no funds are currently coming out of any city employee paycheck toward the union.

From what Kovar knows of the union, she said it appears the group is negotiating on behalf of all city employees, but only employees in utilities departments (electric, water/sewer) are actually members of the union. She said it’s only those employees who can vote on union matters.

“They said from day one that we couldn’t vote or join,” Kovar said. “So I don’t know anything.”

Zavodny said he and City Attorney James Egr have met with Betzen and Hays and a union representative on three occasions to discuss the union’s demands. The union has requested that city employees have the same healthcare plan as last year, which Zavodny said is not possible.

“It’s hard when it’s a public entity,” Zavodny said about union negotiations. “It’s just bit more challenging.”

Union members have also presented the city with a draft regarding several changes they would like to see in the city in terms of items like seniority and department transfers.

“In the form it is in now, we’re pretty far apart at this point,” Zavodny said about the negotiations.

Zavodny said the city plans to hire a lawyer who specializes in unions to help advise them on the best course of action moving forward. He said this lawyer will walk the city through the responsibilities of having a union and how it will function in relation to city activity.

Eric Schucht is a reporter with The Banner Press. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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