City workers win rights in right-to-work city

SAN ANTONIO — Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1967 are engaged in a vigorous campaign to educate city workers here about their rights to safe working conditions, clear promotion and training policies, affordable insurance, and consultation with city management about collective grievances.

These are among the rights won Sept. 18 by the local as the result of a long, hard-fought struggle to get the San Antonio City Council and former city manager Terry Brechtel to recognize city employees’ right to collective consultation with city management. Now the local is working to educate city workers so they will be prepared when they vote on Jan. 14 to determine which unions will represent them in their respective work units.

Another part of the unprecedented victory was the setting aside of $600,000 in the city budget to adjust the imbalance in salaries created by the current structure. This will amount to a 3 percent pay raise for most workers.

According to Local 1967’s co-director, Guillermo Vasquez, the new ordinance “gives a collective voice to the unions.” Vasquez said the City Council resisted the idea of such an ordinance because they thought it was collective bargaining, which is illegal — except for police and firefighter unions — in this “right-to-work” state.

“We had to educate them about labor consultation law,” said Vasquez.

Previously unions could fight on behalf of individual workers, but not collectively. In order for unions to qualify as potential representatives of city workers, they must meet a number of requirements, including a minimum membership of 50 and a 10 percent affirmative vote from the work unit by Dec. 15. The new ordinance provides for the creation of the work units and divides them into seven job types such as skill/craft, paraprofessional, and professional.

“It’s not a perfect ordinance,” observed Vasquez by phone, “but it has the perfect principle that [the workers] will be heard.”

“We asked city employees to take ownership of their representation by fighting in the streets with pickets and demonstration, and we won many issues. That gave them the courage to keep fighting,” an SEIU member said. “Everyone always told us, ‘You can’t do it in the South.’ SEIU has proven that assumption wrong.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.