Salisbury city employees are now able to organize and engage in collective bargaining after City Council members gave their approval to a charter amendment that establishes the practice for current and future administrations.
The measure was approved 5-0 by the City Council at the Sept. 12 legislative meeting.
“I’ve always believed in the efficacy and importance of unions in the workplace,” said Mayor Jake Day. “Giving our employees more control over their pay and working conditions is the right thing to do, and it makes us even more attractive to job applicants at a time when the market is saturated with available positions.”
Day and other city leaders have said they see collective bargaining as a way to attract and retain employees and to safeguard their futures.
Now that the charter is amended, the City Council must adopt a labor code by ordinance that will spell out how employees will be represented when negotiating pay and benefits and also defines the rights of the employer.
Day announced in May he planned to extend collective bargaining rights to all city employees on the heels of the city’s first negotiated contract with the firefighters’ union.
This year’s city budget included across-the-board raises during what Day described at the time as “undeniably the toughest job market that we have ever seen – I think in my lifetime – and certainly in my career as a public servant.”
The city has given minimum 2 percent raises to its 450 employees since fiscal 2014, but this year they got minimum 6 percent pay increases to help cover the rising cost of living due to inflation. Additionally, there were layer increases for some long-serving workers, most of whom are in the Fire Department and Water Works.
“By codifying the rights to organize and bargain as a collective, we’ve made it far more difficult for them to be rolled back by future administrations,” said City Administrator Julia Glanz. “When viewed alongside our pay predictability and career ladder initiatives, I think it shows that our employees mean the world to us, and we’re doing the work to make sure that they–and their families–are taken care of.”
Across the country, a low unemployment rate has created a tough job market, with workers able to ask for – and get – what they want. At his May budget press conference, Day noted that “tides are turning” at large employers such as Starbucks and Amazon where employees have recently unionized.
“In the same way that our employees should be able to count on regular raises, solid benefits, and a guaranteed right to organize, our citizens should not have to live in fear of service interruptions from their municipal government,” Day said. “It has to be a model that’s beneficial to all, and I think that’s what we’ve accomplished.”
While the measure opens the door to arbitration and negotiation, it does not allow for strikes or work stoppages.
City police officers and firefighters have expressed support of collective bargaining measures.
Representatives of local chapters of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Fraternal Order of Police, are expected to represent their members in future negotiations with the city, and have said collective bargaining will aid in recruitment efforts.
"As Council President my thoughts go to safety, first and foremost,” said City Council President Jack Heath. “We want every employee to feel like they can speak up if they see something that can be done better or more safely. Collective bargaining amplifies those concerns, and helps ensure that they’re addressed."