Vancouver union leader: Morale at all-time low

As reported, Vancouver city officials have been researching whether they pay their employees enough money. They did a study and (surprise!) found in many cases, they don’t, at least according to compensation data from about 20 cities and six counties in Washington and Oregon. Non-union employees received received salary adjustments, then the city council voted to give City Manager Eric Holmes’ salary a 17 percent boost and represented groups will be next.

You’d think it’d be all flowers and chocolates at City Hall, right?

Not quite.

According to this email from Ron Fredin, morale among union employees is at an all-time low. Fredin, a street supervisor in public works, serves as president of AFSCME local 307VC, one of the city’s unions. Fredin emailed Mayor Pro Tem Larry Smith to invite him to a July 23 labor meeting. (The email was provided to me as part of my standing public disclosure request; Smith forwarded the email to Holmes on June 16, asking, “What is up?”)

Subject: AFSCME union meeting?

From: “Fredin, Ron” <>

To: “Smith, Larry” <>

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Smith, 
AFSCME, local 307VC would like to invite you to our next union meeting on July, 23rd 2014. Mayor Leavitt will be attending the meeting as well. AFSCME local have many concerns about the City of Vancouver and the direction it’s going with union labor! The meeting will be at OPS or Teamsters hall on Andersen Rd. at 4:45 pm (I will let you know as soon as I know). The local ask for the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, and are looking forward to talking to the both of you. Just a heads up!! Labor morale is at an all-time low! I can say as well in my 33 years with the city it’s not looking very good for labor!
Thank You,
AFSCME local 307VC, President

Ron Fredin

Here’s Holmes’ response:

Sent: Thursday, June 19, 2014 3:13 PM

To: Smith, Larry; Leavitt, Tim

Subject: RE: AFSCME union meeting?

Larry –
I am not exactly sure but will venture a couple guesses (I have copied the Mayor here as he was also invited to join): Compensation and classification: as you know, we have been working on a fairly comprehensive update to the City’s classification and compensation system. The City has not historically had a true classification system – position classes were set by individual positions as opposed to being set in the context of an overall system. In some cases this resulted in people being classed based on what their supervisor or manager through they should be paid, not on what their actual job responsibilities were. The classification system effort is intended to realign all jobs based on what they actually are responsible for and how all positions work together in a
The other item may be compensation and, in particular, the market study that has been ongoing. Council is aware that we have begun to make market adjustments to non-represented employees based on current market data. We have begun bargaining with several labor units (not AFSCME yet – they have not given us e demand to bargain) and as wages are a mandatory subject of
bargaining, we are addressing market based adjustments at the table with those units. In 2011, AFSCME signed an MOU with the City that pretty clearly states that while we will share info on market study results, we are not obligated to bargain the results until the next contract. Here’s a link to the contract on our website (the MOU is around page 68).
It’s been over a decade since we have really looked at our class and comp, and it is causing some anxiety. I am committed to staying relevant to our market comps within our ability to pay, and bargaining these at the table is how we will address it. It may be worth noting that during the depths of the City experiencing the recession (2010 – 2011), our non-represented folks had a true
wage freeze – no wage adjustment at all (no merit, step or market/COLA), while eligible members of AFSCME and other non-public safety unions continued to experience step increases. During this same time, non-represented employees took on a larger share of their health insurance premiums as well, while union members contributions remained static.
Last issue I suspect is budget. The framework I recommended to Council keeps things pretty much status quo for staffing but for converting public safety grant positions to baseline. Streets and grounds are understaffed. No real way around it. And the folks we have do a phenomenal job with what they have. But as you know, my focus – affirmed by Council – is on sustainability of a
structural solution, not making short term decisions that make our long term financial outlook worse.
I must admit to some frustration – I have reached out to Ron a few times earlier this year, as has Jill, to set up a time to meet regularly, with no response. He attended a labor management committee just last week with HR but did not say a word. We have literally no grievances pending across the whole City except for a few technical time loss issues in Fire. I have a healthy respect for Ron and his role with AFSCME (and the work he does here for the City); I’d appreciate if he showed the same respect in return. I spoke with him yesterday briefly on the phone and now have a coffee set up with him for next week, and I look forward to that conversation and getting the open dialogue going again.
Let me know if I can provide anything else –

Eric J. Holmes | City Manager

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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