COREY JOHNSON: 'In uncharted territory.'

The process for City Council staffers to form an independent union continues to advance, with formal discussions underway between the Council Speaker’s office, the city Corporation Counsel and the attorney retained by the union organizers.

The discussions follow-up on a Jan. 27 letter from the union organizing committee to Council Speaker Corey Johnson advising him that they had obtained sign-up cards from a majority of the workers who serve the individual Council Members and the central staff of the City Council Finance Division.

More Than 250 on Board

The organizers wrote they had collected cards from 60 percent of the 391 staffers assigned to individual Council Members and 88 percent of the 27 staff members assigned to Council’s Finance Division.

At his Feb. 11 press conference, Mr. Johnson reiterated his pledge to support voluntary recognition of the union but added that key legal questions remained to be answered.

“I have not put up any roadblocks and I have said over and over again that I support them and what they are doing, but this has to be done in a legal way,” he said. “We are in uncharted territory for the City Council. Does the group negotiate with the Office of Labor Relations? Do they negotiate with the Speaker? We don’t know yet.”

Mr. Johnson said that he believed the union drive was the second of its kind, following a push in the Delaware State legislature.

Going with AFSCME

Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a majority of the 40 Delaware staffers had committed to signing up with Council 81 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

A spokesperson for the Corporation Counsel’s Office confirmed lawyers for the city had spoken with Dina Kolker, an attorney with Stroock, Stroock and Lavan, who represents the staff organizing committee.

Mr. Johnson, noting he was not a lawyer, said it was not clear yet how formal recognition would be memorialized. “But I am proud of the work they have done,” he said. “I think there has been organizing done on hours and that’s fine. I had no issue with that.”

In a phone interview, Zara Nasir, a Council staffer who has been acting as spokeswoman for the organizing drive, said the union boosters were encouraged by the pace of the process and Mr. Johnson’s comments.

Moving Along

“We seem to be moving towards voluntary recognition,” she said. “Our lawyer will be scheduling regular calls. This is all new territory, so we are establishing new relationships as we work through how an employer who's never had a union actually engages with one.”

Under the current arrangement, all Council staffers are outside the civil-service system and considered “at will” employees who can be terminated at any time.

And the pay for jobs such as Legislative Assistant or Community Liaison can vary by tens of thousands of dollars and is set by individual Council Members.

A majority of Members have expressed enthusiastic support for a union in City Hall interviews and e-mail exchanges.

The organizing effort had been underway for months but surfaced publicly as the Council last October deliberated in the case of Council Member Andy King, who twice in two years had allegations substantiated that he sexually harassed and abused staff members.

The probe was sparked by the discovery that in violation of Council workplace policies, he terminated a staffer who accused him of sexual harassment in 2015, a charge that was upheld in 2017.

Included in the latest round of substantiated charges were allegations that Mr. King “repeatedly intimidated and punished staff” to prevent them from cooperating with the internal probe, and “routinely required” staffers to use their personal vehicles to chauffeur him.

At the Council’s Oct. 29 meeting, it sanctioned Mr. King with a 30-day suspension without pay and a $15,000 fine and installed a monitor over his office’s operations until the end of his term, but a resolution to expel him was defeated.

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