Yacolt, workers without pact

Town’s four employees joined union in July

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Four months after Yacolt’s four town employees became recognized members of Teamsters Local 58 in Vancouver, the union and the town of Yacolt have yet to hash out the financial terms of the employees’ contracts.

Teamsters officials declined to say Monday whether the town’s employees are close to reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the town.

“We’re continuing our process internally with the employees, as we should,” said Mike Workman, business representative for Teamsters Local 58.

Unionizing could provide employees a chance at better pay, benefits and job security, Yacolt officials have said.

It remains unclear how the Nov. 8 general election will change the makeup of the town’s council, and thus opinions among town leaders about the four employees being unionized.

Neither the concept of small groups joining larger unions nor public employees joining them is unique to Yacolt, said Laurie Mercier, a history professor at Washington State University Vancouver.

“Many people tend to think of unions as representing a large group of people,” said Mercier, who taught a labor history course last year. “But that’s not entirely true. Historically, if you look at smaller groups in Washington like hairdressers or clerks, they might not have involved a lot of employees, but they probably belonged to a union that represented more employees.”

‘Job protection’

It is likely the Yacolt town workers’ collective goals are the same as larger unions comprised of automotive or steel workers for private companies, she added. Better wages and benefits, plus increased respect, are among those desires.

“The union is also protecting them against unfair treatment and retaliation,” Mercier added.

The town’s employees and administration must negotiate the contract before it goes before the council, town Clerk Cindy Marbut said. The council approves the town’s budget and thus would have to sign off on the employees’ contracts.

“It’s really informal at this point,” Marbut said of contract talks. She cited “job protection” as the main reason for joining the union.

The town’s budget may ultimately play a role in speeding up negotiations.

“We’re getting close to submitting the budget so I would assume (the contract) will be submitted sooner or later,” Councilman Jimmy Robertson said.

Views unclear

Teamsters business representative Walter LaChapelle III and Yacolt Councilman Dave Hancock exchanged letters in March about the town’s employees potentially joining the union. In an interview in June, Yacolt Mayor James Weldon indicated Hancock should have taken the matter before the council before replying to the Teamsters.

Yacolt’s employees became registered union members in July.

Hancock did not return a phone call for this story.

Whether town officials support the unionization remains somewhat unclear. Weldon and Councilwoman Karen Holyk previously declined to say whether they supported it.

Robertson, a current union employee, said he supports unions but not the idea of Yacolt’s employees unionizing. He has expressed questions about whether the town’s employees would be a large enough bargaining unit to have any power and whether job security is that much of an issue among Yacolt’s employees.

Next Tuesday’s general elections could have an impact on future contract discussions, he said. Four council seats are up for grabs. The town will have a new mayor come Nov. 9.

“The new council members and the new mayor may have a different opinion of the union,” Robertson cautioned.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.