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Over 300 Warren City Employees join GELC

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: March 24, 2017

— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor

After over 40 years of membership with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Warren City Employees banned together and formed a mass exodus of over 300 workers.

Warren Employee Supervisors had enough problems with AFSCME to “write a book,” said Dave Klein, President of the Supervisors local union.

“AFSCME wasn’t giving us the support we needed,” Klein said. “They were just difficult to work with. It just piled up.”

So when the 41-member unit began looking for a new union to represent them, they asked for referrals. They received plenty for the Government Employees Labor Council (GELC).

“We were searching for a new union to go to and the President of the Warren Police Association told me about GELC. There were ex-Warren employees that worked with GELC,” Klein said. He was referring to GELC Director Rob Figurski and GELC Labor Rep. Chet Kulesza.

Labor Attorney Peter Sudnick, who represents individuals with Warren PD, GELC and Police Officers Labor Council (POLC), also heard about the problems City employees had with AFSCME and put in a good word for GELC. “That’s how it all started,” Kulesza said.

Warren General Employees Local 227 followed suit, also dissatisfied with their former union. The largest of the three Warren groups opted to join the GELC in the spring. Both groups were with AFSCME since the 1970s.

“They left mainly because they weren’t getting services and we were highly recommended by the police officers union,” Figurski said.

“Members felt that with AFCSME, we weren’t their main priority,” said Local 227 Union President Lee Zumbrunnen. “The members felt that other municipalities seemed to come first and GELC seems to always put us first.”

Zumbrunnen said his 230-member group had trust issues with AFSCME. “A lot of times with AFCSME, we would ask questions and (employees) wouldn’t believe them and think they were trying to get out of work,” he said. “(Warren Employees) have a lot of faith with GELC and they’ve been happy with them.”

Zumbrunnen, a Senior Appraiser with the City, was impressed when GELC representatives came in to talk to their membership. “The service they said they would give us has been above and beyond what we expected,” Zumbrunnen said. “If there are ever any questions, Rob is always there to help. He calls me right away. The legal team is great – if you have any questions, you call them up and you get an answer. Rob has always kept me in touch with what is going on in Lansing. It’s nice to know they have a lobbyist there fighting for us.”

Warren General Employees and Supervisors joined the GELC in April 2016 and had new contracts ratified by the end of June with pay raises each year, two pay raises in 2017, and an increase in Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions. The pay increases over the course of the three-year contract add up to 7.5 percent. The City agreed to match Employee contributions of two percent of their pay into the HSA, an increase over the previous one percent contribution.

“They haven’t been getting pay increases, so they were very happy with that,” Kulesza said.

While Klein said Supervisors received some minor pay increases in 2014-15, prior to that their wages were frozen for a long period time.

Warren General Employees Local 227 received some additional perks in their contract. Their uniform allowance increased from $110 per year to $300 annually and new hires in two departments received three sick days and six paid holidays off.

“Some of our Tier 2 (new hire) laborers got additional holidays and sick days,” Zumbrunnen said. “They had none before. Tier 1 already has all these holidays and sick days.”

While they were AFCSME members, General Employees did their best to keep their sanitation and building maintenance departments in tact. Through negotiations, they opted out of Holiday and Sick pay for new hires to prevent city services from being outsourced.

“So many times it went before council to outsource,” Zumbrunnen said. “Now that we have secured these departments in house, in the future we can work on getting better benefits for these new employees.”

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