On May 22, Laurel City Council passed a charter amendment granting employees of the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) the right to collective bargaining. 

While the vote was unanimous, comments from both the council and the union organizer revealed the underlying tension.

John Barry, United Food and Commercial Workers International 1994/Municipal & County Government Employees Organization organizer, told the council he was “glad we are getting to this point where we are able to approve this amendment,” as it “took a long time to get to this point.”

Councilmember Keith Sydnor (Ward 2) took offense to Barry’s characterization of negotiations, stating that he first learned about the DPW’s desire to unionize during the Feb. 27 council meeting’s public hearing. He then asked each councilmember when they learned about it. While Councilmembers James Cole (Ward 1) and Brencis Smith (Ward 2) said that they also learned about the issue on Feb. 27, Councilmember Carl DeWalt (Ward 1) said he couldn’t recall when he heard, and Councilmember Martin Mitchell (At-Large) admitted he knew about it in December.

“Withholding information from the council is a lack of integrity,” Sydnor said. “If Councilmember Mitchell had come to us as a councilman to tell us what’s going on, we wouldn’t have this problem. You guys are misleading the public.”

Syndor stressed that he cast his vote  to “make it loud and clear for the record” that the council completely supported the employees’ desire to unionize.

Mayor Craig Moe noted that he knew when the Laurel Police Department received approval to unionize, in September 2012, that other departments would follow The police department is currently the city’s only unionized department.

“This is no big secret, I’ve been around. There is no issue with this,” Moe said. “This is the first time that I’ve heard, when it came up on the 27th, under everybody’s report, that they supported this. I don’t think anybody was opposed to anything.”

Moe noted that the process had “moved very quickly for a charter resolution we found about on the 27.” The city and union now have 50 days to develop a labor code. 

– Katie V. Jones