Teamsters protest in front of Bernero campaign HQ

By Neal McNamara
Photo by Patrick Nolan

Union that reps city workers says it's gone 1,000 days without a contract

Members of the Teamsters Local 580 union protested in front of the campaign office of Mayor Virg Bernero Wednesday afternoon to mark nearly 1,000 days since the union’s contract expired.

Teamsters 580 head Mike Parker said the union has been trying to negotiate a contract with the city since its last one expired on Feb. 1, 2007, but it cannot reach an agreement, because the city administration is trying to strip Teamsters retirees of medical and dental coverage.

“We’re trying to draw attention to the anti-working family demands that Virg Bernero has on the table,” Parker said, holding a sign decrying the 1,000-day mark and standing a few feet from a giant inflatable rat.

Bernero said the union has been without a contract for so long because of “tough economic times,” and he charged that Parker has not “seriously” pursued negotiating a new contract. The administration has proposed a contract in which future Teamsters 580 retirees — meaning those that would be hired after a new contract is in place — would get reduced benefits, but current retirees’ benefits would remain the same.

“My strategy is to keep the people we have on already as whole as possible,” Bernero said. “With new people coming in, you could offer them something different (in terms of a retirement package).”

The Teamsters 580 union represents about 250 city of Lansing employees in all city departments.

Parker acknowledged that the mayor’s desire was for future, not current, Teamsters 580 retirees to get lessened benefits.

“We still consider it anti-working family. Whether they retire today or in 20 years, that’s still taking away health care benefits,” Parker said.

Parker called Bernero’s claim that he was not seriously pursuing a new contract “laughable.” Between 2006 and 2008, Teamsters 580 feuded with the city over an unfair labor practice grievance. Parker had sought information from the city to prove that it was using temporary workers to fill union positions. A state administrative law judge found that the city had not properly responded to Parker’s requests in a timely manner or with the proper information and ordered that the union’s requests be granted.

Parker said the grievance process “slowed things down.” Bernero said he did not know why there had been a communication breakdown between both sides — though he did say that negations have been occurring each month — but that other unions are in regular communication with his office, and he has an open door policy.