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Legal fees up due to new union

By Staff | May 8, 2010

Winnebago city employees forming a union has proven to be a strain on funds budgeted for legal expenses.

Last October, six workers voted in favor of joining a union.

Since that time more than $19,500 has been paid to the law firm of Abrams & Schmidt for representation during contract negotiations.

The city’s executive committee — Mayor Randy Nowak and Councilman Dana Gates — and their attorney Tiffany Schmidt have met several times with the union’s representative.

Gates says the meetings have been monthly and have been held in Winnebago. He says the meetings have lasted about six hours each time.

“We’re making progress, but it’s going slowly. That’s normal for a city that doesn’t have an existing contract in place” says Gates.

Schmidt says negotiating the first contract always takes more time because everything from wages and hours to term of the contract are being discussed.

“We are really starting from scratch,” she says.

City officials are actually working on two contracts.

“We’re taking the personnel policy and crafting a labor agreement,” says Gates. “We’re creating the foundation agreement for future years.”

Police officers will have their own agreement because the requirements of their job are different from the others.

The city for this year has budgeted $20,000 for legal expenses.

Last year, City Attorney Douglas Johanson billed the city $13,250 for 132.5 hours of work.

So far this year, $14,635 has been doled out for legal counsel for union negotiations. Johanson waits until December to submit his yearly total hours for payment.

Nowak says the attorney fees for labor negotiations were unforseeable.

“We have no choice but to pay and deal with it,” he says.

Nowak says the new city administrator will become involved with negotiations as a member of the executive committee.