Mike Kueber's Blog

March 19, 2013

“Meet and confer” for city employees

At one of the first candidate forums in my campaign for the San Antonio City Council, the candidates were asked what they thought about city employees becoming eligible for “meet and confer” status.  If we hadn’t received advance notice of the questions, I would have had to confess complete ignorance of the subject.  With the opportunity to do some preliminary research, I developed a nodding acquaintance with the concept, but not much more.  Since then, I have learned more.

Texas law provides police and fire employees with two types of contract bargaining:

  • Collective  Bargaining.  Government Code 174, enacted in 1973, empowers local governments to enter into a labor contract with its police, sheriff’s deputies, or fire fighter.  The local governments must adopt collective bargaining through a public referendum and the employee association must obtain recognition as the “sole and exclusive bargaining agent” for the employees.  If the sides can’t agree on the terms (impasse), the matter will be referred to arbitration. 
  • Meet and Confer.  Government Code 142, enacted in 2005, empowers local governments with more than 50,000 residents to enter into labor contracts with police, sheriff’s deputies, or firefighters.  The local governments can adopt “meet and confer” without a public referendum, but the employee association must still obtain recognition as the “sole and exclusive bargaining agent” for the employees.  The issues subject to “meet and confer” negotiation must be agreed on by both parties, and there is no requirement for an impasse to go to arbitration.

For several years, there has been a liberal movement in Austin toward expanding the “meet and confer” provision beyond police/fire employees to all city employees, but thus far the movement has been stymied.

At the candidate forum, I knew just enough to know that I didn’t like employees negotiating with local government (a la Wisconsin), so I responded to the question by opposing “meet and confer” status to San Antonio’s non-police/fire employees.  The other candidates did the same, including liberal, pro-union Ron Nirenberg, although I don’t remember his rationale.

Upon further reflection, I don’t see any harm to having “meet and confer” status for city employees, and it could prove to be beneficial because workers would have a voice and feel empowered.  The city would still be able to control the subject of discussions and would not have to worry about impasse/arbitration.

Also upon further reflection, I am amazed that police/fire employees have been able to create such a “bird’s nest on the ground” compared to other city employees.  They’ve done the same thing in Wisconsin.  Proves what too-powerful unions can do.

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