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W’bago hiring labor law attorney

By Staff | Sep 12, 2009

Some city employees are exploring the idea of forming a union, so Winnebago officials have hired a labor law attorney to handle any issues.

City Council members were informed Tuesday night the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) received a petition on Sept. 3 from non-supervisory Public Safety Department employees.

Currently, the police department has two full-time officers and five part-timers.

Workers in the Public Works Department, which has three full-time workers and one part-time worker, also may be trying to unionize.

A petition was filed with the BMS on Aug. 21 on behalf of all city employees, excluding supervisory and confidential employees.

City Attorney Douglas Johanson recommended the council hire attorney Marylee Abrams of Abrams & Schmidt in Arden Hills.

“Labor law is a specialized area. She has 25 years of experience and is very capable,” Johanson says. Abrams will bill the city $135 an hour and $65 an hour for travel time. She will not be paid for mileage, postage and other expenses.

Janet Johnson of the Bureau of Mediation Services says her agency will determine which employees may be part of the union.

She says anyone wishing to be part of a union must meet the statutory definition of a public employee — work more than 14 hours a week and more than 67 days a year.

“An election could still be held sometime within the next few weeks. We don’t like to drag this on,” says Johnson.

Until the BMS certifies memberships of the union and an election is held, the agency has issued an order to maintain existing conditions.

Under the order, wages, hours and all existing conditions of employment cannot be changed and threats or promises as to any changes are also prohibited.

In addition, the city may not question employees about membership in a labor union or discriminate against them because they have filed a petition.

In other business, the council approved:

• Replacing a police car transmission for $1,800.

Police Chief Bob Toland says the car is scheduled to be replaced this year, but because budget shortfalls he wants to replace the transmission and wait another year before buying a new vehicle.

• The resignation of Darold Nienhaus, who has served 20 years in the fire department.

• An on-sale and Sunday on-sale liquor licenses for Southern Minnesota Signs, which recently opened Brickhouse Pizza. on Main Street.

• A preliminary tax levy of $484,611 or a 20.06 percent increase.

Councilman Dana Gates says he’s not too concerned about the increase because he expects it will be reduced prior to final approval of the budget in December.