AFSCME Council 18

Rio Grande Corridor Keeps Turning AFSCME Green!

City of Belen Blue Collar Employees VOTE AFSCME

Congratulations to City of Belen blue collar employees who organized and voted overwhelmingly to form a union with AFSCME on July 28, 2016. The secret ballot election was conducted and supervised by Belen’s Labor Management Relations Board at the public library.
Despite intimidation tactics employed by upper management, who talked down the union and distributed misleading anti-union “fact” sheets, the organizing committee held strong and maintained good communication with 17+ bargaining unit employees.

Belen blue collar employees, who work in Streets, Water, Wastewater, and Solid Waste departments, will now focus their energy on negotiating a first contract.

City of Belen Union Organizing Committee Members (L to R): Paul Dominguez, Henry Jaramillo, Kenneth Reese, Robert Chavira, Rex Chaney

“We decided it was time to be treated more fairly, to make sure we earn wages that our families can survive on, to speak up, and try to get rid of the politics that are negatively affecting our jobs. So we organized.” -
Rex Chaney, organizing committee member and City of Belen Level II Water Operator

One issue which drove the organizing effort was the disappearance of a raise approved and funded by city council last year. “Council had approved $87,000 that would’ve allowed for a good raise across the board,” said Joel Villareal, AFSCME Council 18 staff representative and lead negotiator for the Belen blue collar employees. “Somehow that money vanished and everyone received a nickel an hour instead.”

Villareal appeared alongside organizing committee members at the Belen City Council’s October meeting to introduce the union to council members and express the workers’ hopes that high paid management consultants wouldn’t be brought in to complicate negotiations.

The tone of that meeting soured quickly when one councilman spoke out in favor of hiring outside consultants, and indicated he thought Brother Villareal was committing an unfair labor practice by coming forward with an intention to intimidate the council into not hiring a notorious consulting firm.

AFSCME’s position has been consistent that existing city human resources and legal staff have the expertise to negotiate effectively and in good faith without the need to enlist the support of expensive union busting law firms.

"These firms have a disincentive to finish negotiating contracts," said Connie Derr, AFSCME Council 18 Executive Director. "The longer negotiations drag out, the more money these firms stand to rake in. They don’t only aim to bust unions, they end up busting already strained government budgets too.”

Brother Villareal responded to the councilman by insisting that “bringing up a concern is not an unfair labor practice...we find it ironic that city worker’s tax dollars are being used to fight against them.”

Belen currently has a contract with the Holcomb Law Firm out of Albuquerque for management consulting over labor issues. Prior to the organizing effort, they had only billed the city $240 through the middle of 2016. As the organizing effort went into high gear this summer, the consulting fees shot up over 1000% to $3000 for a five month period.

“Labor negotiations will take some time,“ said Villareal. “Holcomb Law just had their contract renewed and will be charging Belen taxpayers $150 to $175 per hour to lead these negotiations. Historically, we get things done more efficiently when dealing directly with City management."

“City staff know the budgets and they know the lay of the land. Using the consultants, Belen is sure to rack up tens of thousands in bills during negotiations. That money could be better used to fund city operations, or pay for those cost-of-living raises which councilors have approved in the past and somehow vanished.”



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