By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - A decision by the Maine Labor Relations Board clears the way for municipal employees to hold an election to determine whether they will organize a union.The board ruled that two employees who supervise others can be included in the bargaining unit with other municipal employees.
Since the town does not plan to file an appeal, the board will conduct an election this spring to determine if employees want to organize a bargaining unit represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, or be on their own. That election will be conducted via mail, according to Dyan Dyttmer, Maine Labor Relations Board hearing officer.
"This was somewhat disappointing news, but not surprising," Dexter Town Manager Robert Simpson said Tuesday. He said he was perplexed about why the labor board would rule to allow employees who clearly perform supervisory duties to be included in a bargaining unit.
Municipal employees notified town officials earlier this year that they planned to unionize in order to protect the benefits they now have. The employees feared that as municipal officials juggle rising costs with declining revenue they would continue to be on the losing side. Unlike their counterparts in SAD 46, municipal employees have had no cost-of-living increase in two years. More than one employee said the union attempt could have been avoided had town officials been willing to meet with them to discuss alternatives and solutions.
While they acknowledged the right of the employees to unionize, town officials disputed the inclusion of Sgt. James Emerson of the Dexter Police Department and Jasper Hatch, public works foreman, as members of the bargaining unit. Town Manager Robert Simpson said the two serve as supervisors in the absence of the public works director and the police chief.
The state board, however, ruled that the two men could be included in the same bargaining unit as their subordinates. Dyttmer, who was the hearing officer involved in the case, said she found that the duties of the sergeant and the foreman do not create such supervisory conflict that they should be placed in a separate two-person bargaining unit.
About 20 employees are eligible for the union, including full-time police and public works employees, assistant librarians, part-time ambulance drivers, welfare clerk, deputy clerk and general administration and police secretaries.
"The union is very pleased with the ruling of the board," Ed Willey, Maine coordinator for AFSME Council 93, said Tuesday. "We firmly believe we can overcome any technical problems that may arise by having supervisors in the general unit." Willey expects the employees will vote to unionize. A simple majority is needed, he said.
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