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City, county puzzled by pro-union bill

Leaders upset Rep. Barrow didn’t seek input

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Posted: August 19, 2007 4:34 p.m.
Updated: September 4, 2007 5:00 a.m.

            City of Statesboro leaders are upset with Congressman John Barrow for his support of recently passed legislation they say is unnecessary, may be unconstitutional and would place an undue hardship on local government if it ever does become relevant.

            “Extreme irritation, displeasure and opposition” was language used by the city council – in a letter sent last week to Barrow – to express dissatisfaction for his vote on House Bill HR980 – the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act. Barrow is the representative from Georgia’s 12th district, which includes Bulloch County.

            The act provides collective bargaining rights for public safety/police officers employed by state or local governments. It would direct the Federal Labor Relations Authority to grant those rights and require public safety employers to recognize and bargain with the employee’s labor organization – union. It would supercede any state law on the matter.

            Bulloch officials also were concerned Barrow and his office did not discuss either co-sponsoring the bill or his support of it with local city and county officials.

            “If this was legislation affecting local agriculture, I would think he would talk to them,” said City Manager George Wood. “If this was legislation affecting GSU, I would think he would talk to them too. This bill affects our workforce directly and we get no communication whatsoever.”

            Tom Couch, county manager, agreed. “We’ve had no local consultation or dialogue about (the bill) before or after the initiation of the legislation.”

            Roman Levit, policy director for Barrow’s office, said the congressman supported and co-sponsored the bill, along with more than 200 other members, because “it gives public safety employees the respect they deserve by allowing them to collectively bargain, if they so choose, for their pay and benefits.”

            In a recent city press release, Mayor Bill Hatcher asked “Exactly where in the U.S. Constitution does it say that the federal government is authorized to determine whether there will be public employee unions in each state and its political subdivisions?”

            Levit explained the bill’s reasoning: “There is a long history of the Federal government having labor laws. (This bill) treats public employees the same way private employees are treated.”

            Wood, however, disagreed with Levit's comparison.

            “That’s a false analogy,” he said. “In the private sector, there is no recourse. If you work for a company and don’t have a union, you accept the working conditions or that’s it. In the public sector, we have elections. (Public employees) can lobby for better pay, run for office or support people who think the city doesn’t pay enough.”

            Also, since there is no talk of unionizing, either at the city or county level, Wood said this is the point.

            “That’s the frustrating part,” he said. “This is a solution in search of a problem. Why are we creating a federal law for something that is not a problem?”

            Couch said, “That is the puzzling part of it. If you look at the labor market for public safety personnel, there is a shortage of qualified labor and the demand is driving up wages.”

            Wood said similar letters were sent to Georgia Senators Chambliss and Isakson with the hope that the bill would fail in the Senate.
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