Council approves city worker unionization for November ballot
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Hiring and firing policies for Austin city workers will be in the hands of voters this November.
Thursday, the Austin City Council approved the move. Some council members say it’s not a move to unionize the bulk of the city's workforce, but rather a way to improve how grievances are handled. Under the ordinance, there would be a commission that would handle appeals from employees who are fired, suspended, demoted or denied a promotion.
"This would be leveling the playing field, since several of our public safety departments already have these types of protections," Council Member Laura Morrison said. "This just says that our philosophy and our requirement is that there be a just cause for those actions."
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, has pushed for a civil service in Austin for 20 years.
The original ordinance called for an equalization of pay for positions across all departments. City Manager Marc Ott's office estimated it could cost as much as $82.4 million more a year. That was struck from the proposal late Wednesday night.
Greg Powell with AFSCME says this process builds the city's case against a disgruntled employee, so it is less likely to be overturned by a court.
"The number of lawsuits filed is one thing. The number of judgments or settlements that the city has to engage in is quite another," Powell said. "It does involve the development of the civil service rules, a look at the compensation program, the hiring procedures, the promotional procedures and all that. That coincides perfectly with what the city has been undertaking for the last two years."
Powell says that includes removing the politics from hiring and firing city employees, with the intent to create the most qualified workforce possible.
AFSCME has lobbied state lawmakers to allow collective bargaining rights for Austin workers for three legislative sessions.
The latest attempt last year never made it out of committee.