Dover City Council is expected to vote on a new labor contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1238..
The city of Dover has reached a tentative contract with the local branch of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, a pact members of Dover’s City Council will take up during their Monday, April 28 meeting.
The agreement first will be discussed in a closed-door executive meeting and then voted on during the open session beginning at 7:30 p.m.
IBEW Local 1238 represents the 35 workers in the city’s electrical department and at its electrical generating facilities, business manager and financial secretary Stephen Newberry told the Dover Post in a January interview.
Newberry was out of town during preparation of this story and could not be reached for comment.
Union members have been working without a contract since their previous, three-year deal expired on June 30, 2013.
Work on a new contract began before the old pact expired, said attorney Glenn Mandalas, who headed the city’s negotiating team.
Mandalas, noting he could not discuss details of the contract itself, said it was his understanding union members already had voted to ratify the contract.
“To the extent [the council] votes to approve it, I’ll recommend they approve it,” Mandalas said.
Negotiations on the new contract were professional and even cordial at times, despite both sides working to achieve their own objectives, he said.
However, the talks hit a snag, which required intervention by a mediator appointed by the Delaware Public Employment Relations Board, Mandalas said.
The board works to enforce state collective bargaining laws and, among its other duties, is empowered to resolve disputes during contract negotiations.
“State law defines how a public employer like the city of Dover negotiates with a union, so when you reach an impasse, you ask for assistance,” he said.
The mediator’s job is to hear both sides find a middle ground for agreement; however the two sides still were not able to compromise, Mandalas said.
The process then involved arbitration, where each side submits their best and final offers; after a seven day period neither side is allowed to modify or revise their position.
The arbitrator then makes a final, binding decision.
“At that point you’re all in,” Mandalas said.
But with both sides realizing an arbitration decision might not go their way, the groups returned to the negotiating table.
“We got nearly through the first day of arbitration, and as these things sometimes do, it sort of reignited interest in possibly coming to a negotiated resolution,” Mandalas said.
“I’ve always felt that if you ask an arbitrator to make a decision, then your negotiations have failed. We realized there was an opportunity to come together.
“We worked a little harder, and we came up with a contract.”
However, the arbitrator’s work may not be over. If City Council does not accept the proposed contract, the two sides will return to arbitration, Mandalas said.
He does not think that will happen.
“I feel pretty confident about it and they’ll vote to accept it,” he said.
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Council President David Bonar said he, too, could not discuss the proposed contract in detail, but is pleased the talks resulted in a contract.
He’s also pleased negotiators on both sides realized the city has major financial problems that must be taken into account when preparing a new agreement.
“Contract negotiations can be notoriously adversarial, and I think people on both sides over the past couple of years have become much more cordial and much more reasonable,” he said.
“Our employees deserve a livable wage, but we’re restricted in the amount of money we have to spend,” Bonar added.
The costs of the contract, if adopted by City Council, must be built into Dover’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget, Bonar said.
“There will be some impact, but it won’t be as great as originally proposed.”