Salisbury officials are moving forward with a plan that would allow city employees to engage in collective bargaining as a way to attract and retain employees and to safeguard their futures.
For nine consecutive years, city workers have gotten raises and also have “strong benefits,” City Administrator Julia Glanz said during a July 18 City Council work session.
“We’d like to set those in stone moving forward for a future mayor, a future council that may not value those things the way we do,” she said.
Last week’s discussion was just the first step in a lengthy process that will require amending the city charter and also establishing a city labor code. The council must first adopt a resolution describing the proposed amendment and hold a public hearing before voting to approve the amendment.
Once the charter is amended and is in effect, the City Council must adopt a labor code by ordinance that will spell out how employees will be represented when negotiating pay and benefits.
Mayor Jake 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.
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.
Representatives of the city police and fire departments who attended last week’s council work session applauded the decision to move forward.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Ryan Jones, a career firefighter who serves as President of Local 4246 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Collective bargaining will serve as a “security blanket,” and help with both recruitment and retention, he said.
“This is something that will pay off big for us in the future,” Jones said.
Sgt. Brandon Caton of the Salisbury Police Department, who serves as Vice President of the Wicomico Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police, echoed Jones’ sentiments.
“It will keep SPD competitive,” he said. “This mechanism is huge beyond just salaries.”
The local chapters of both the IAFF and the FOP are expected to represent their members in future negotiations once the proposed charter amendment is in effect.
All five City Council members said they support moving forward with extending collective bargaining rights to all city employees, in addition to police officers and firefighters.