Derby Will No Longer Negotiate With Police, Fire Unions

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The City of Derby will no longer negotiate with public employee unions and will instead implement an employee advisory council system that the city manager says will be better for Derby and its employees.

The city council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to rescind a 1987 decision to negotiate with public employee unions under the Kansas Employer-Employee Relations Act. That state law allows cities to decide whether to bargain with unions.

Council members Cheryl Bannon, Jim Craig, Thomas Haynes and Chuck Warren and Mayor Dion Avello voted to opt out of PEERA. Council members Vaughn Nunn and Randy White voted against the change. Councilman Jim Staats abstained from the discussion and vote on the item.

Since 1987, only the Derby Police Department has conducted union negotiations with the city. Firefighters wanted to start doing the same, but Tuesday's vote means that will not happen.

"It honestly feels like we're just making it up as we go," said firefighter Carson Chatwell.

The lack of any specific details of an alternative to PEERA is part of why Chatwell if frustrated with the council's vote. He also worries what will happen under future city councils and city managers.

"I believe that the people on this council have the best of intentions, but it's not this council I'm worried about," he said. "We got elections in the spring then there's elections every two years after that. What happens when this city manager leaves and goes somewhere else?"

Derby City Manager Kathy Sexton said she understands those concerns, but she said she is confident her proposed system of employee advisory councils will remain consistent, no matter the make-up of city government.

"We believe that if we set up this new process in the personal policy manual in black and white, it will endure over time as most of our policies have," she said.

The make-up of the employee advisory councils will be determined by the members of each city department. Police officers, firefighters and other city employees will elect members of their own departments to serve on the councils, Sexton said.

"Then, in the councils, they can go ahead and talk about whatever issues are on their minds and management will bring issues to those council meetings for them to consider," she said.

Before the vote, council members heard from eight speakers on the issue. All of them urged the council to continue union bargaining. The same was true of a Nov. 13 public hearing on the issue.

Firefighters like Chatwell worry the new system, which has not been fully developed, will tip the scales in the city's favor.

"Under this system, there's one set of rules and it's the city's set of rules," he said. "They can pick and choose what they want to follow."

The City of Derby is already committed to police union negotiations in 2013, so that relationship will not end until 2014. Sexton plans to have the details of the employee advisory council system by January or February.

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