New Orleans :
Morial OKs Vote on Union By City Workers

Mayor has list of conditions such as ban on strikes

By Stephanie Grace
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

Mayor Marc Morial will let city workers vote on whether they want to be represented by a union, as long as union representatives agree to a list of conditions that precludes strikes and other job actions.

In a letter to Wade Rathke, chief organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 100, Morial's executive counsel Avis Russell conceded that a majority of employees want to vote on the issue. She said the mayor hopes to schedule the election quickly to avoid "the disruptions that can accompany long, drawn-out, contentious union organizational campaigns."

"It's conceivable that we could have an election within 30 days," Russell said in an interview.

In the letter, Russell proposed that the city, the union and the New Orleans Public Workers Council of the AFL-CIO enter a memorandum of understanding outlining a procedure for holding an election. The agreement would outline which employees would be eligible to vote and join a union, and would specifically forbid strikes or job actions "in any fashion at any time."

Rathke, who had pushed for an election by Labor Day, greeted the letter and draft agreement with enthusiasm, and said he expects the union and administration to find common ground on the specifics.

"I don't see anything that would cause any delay," he said. "As always, the devil is in the details, but quickly looking at this draft, much of it is boilerplate language. . . . We obviously think this is a huge step forward."

Russell's proposal excludes "confidential," managerial, supervisory and unclassified employees from the bargaining unit, as well as police, fire, E.M.S. and Aviation Board employees. Confidential employees might include workers such as executive secretaries or budget personnel, she said. Firefighters already are covered by a union.

Russell said she does not know how many employees would be covered; Rathke estimated 1,800 to 2,000. The union has given the administration more than 1,500 cards signed by employees who support a vote, Rathke said, although that probably includes some workers who would not be eligible to vote.

The proposal also outlines the job conditions that would not be subject to collective bargaining because they are set by the Civil Service Commission or other agencies, including pay, discipline, pension, and health and welfare benefits.

Still, Rathke said, a union would provide workers with a much-needed vehicle to get involved in decisions about matters such as budgeting or privatization.

"They'll be at the table," he said. "What city workers want is to have one collective voice."

Russell also said the administration will agree not to campaign against the union drive, but will "provide information that is neutral," such as what the union can and cannot negotiate.

Administration officials are reviewing and validating the union cards, and figuring out which workers will be eligible to vote. That process should be complete next week, Russell said, paving the way for negotiations with the union about the memorandum of understanding, then the election.

If the city meets the 30-day target, the election would take place just weeks before the Oct. 20 referendum on whether Morial may run for a third term. Rathke said the unions haven't endorsed the third-term bid, but probably will take a position on the matter.

But he said the timing of the union vote so close to the referendum is no evidence of a deal. Morial's decision, he said, had as much to do with his "maturity as mayor" as with the vote that will decide his future.

"There's no quid pro quo here," Rathke said.


Stephanie Grace can be reached at or (504) 826-3383.
© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

Go to our page on the New Orleans City Workers' Campaign