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Publish Date: 8/30/2005

Worker relations still hot city topic
Pedrow to report on improving morale

LONGMONT — A year ago, city leaders, police officers and firefighters were embroiled in an ugly public dispute over pay, benefits and unionization.

Police officers threatened mass exodus if voters didn’t give them collective bargaining authority. Politicians said at the time that public safety workers were seeking something no other city employees had, and warned the charter amendment proposal would wreak havoc on the city’s finances.

Immediately following the proposal’s 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent defeat, organizers said they would return to the ballot box as soon as possible.

At the same time, the pro-union Longmont Police Officers’ Association and the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police turned against some of their own members who opposed the unionization drive, seeking to censure or even evict them from the group.

But a year later, divisions appear to have smoothed and rifts have healed. There was no mass exodus of police officers — only one officer left the department following the election — and there’s no current effort to put the proposal back on the ballot.

But while it may seem that last year’s hottest issue has disappeared from public view, instead it has merely gone beneath the surface, with the sides again meeting and discussing their issues in private.

Neither side, however, is willing to discuss the discussions. But tonight, members of the Longmont City Council will receive an update from city manager Gordon Pedrow on his efforts to improve relations and morale among all of the city’s approximately 830 workers.

Mike Violette, a spokesman for the LPOA, declined to comment on the tenor of the discussions, which began with a meeting in May. Another is slated for the end of August or early September.

“We are remaining cautiously optimistic that this will all work out and another election won't be necessary,” Violette said via e-mail Monday. “We believe the city feels the same way (to an extent) and would rather have a settlement than something handed to them by the voters that administration had no part in developing. Only time will tell.”

Pedrow has also declined to comment specifically on the discussions with the LPOA. He has repeatedly said his job is to ensure all city workers are treated fairly and equally.

Tonight, Pedrow will update the council on his efforts to manage his employees effectively.

One of the rifts created by the charter amendment proposal last fall was the feeling by some city workers that police and firefighters believed they were entitled to special consideration when it came to pay, benefits and working conditions.

Under the charter amendment proposal, the police and fire departments would have unionized and bargained collectively for pay and benefits. The proposal was sparked in large measure by the city’s decision in 2003 to freeze pay increases for all workers. Police officers and firefighters sued the city to get their raises, then pushed for collective bargaining when that lawsuit failed.

But a hint about Pedrow’s approach can be found in his informational memo to the council, in which he says an employee advisory group could supplement existing avenues for workers to raise concerns and suggestions to supervisors.

Pedrow and other city leaders said the charter amendment would have removed too much power from the police and fire chiefs to manage their own departments. Pedrow said any city worker has always been welcome to speak with him or directly to the council.

“A strong organization thrives in an environment in which each and every employee has the freedom to spontaneously and personally discuss with other members of the team appropriate workplace issues that help provide better services,” Pedrow wrote to the council. “A strong organization does not limit such discussions to a formalized process using selected representatives and specified times.”

Pedrow is asking the council whether it wants him to create an employee advisory group similar to ones in Boulder County and other area cities. The council ordered Pedrow to investigate the idea during its annual work session in January.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.



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