Around 200 members of a labor bargaining group representing about 700 City of Long Beach employees walked out of an annual luncheon on May 22 when City Manager Pat West got up to speak. According to Wendell Phillips, general counsel for the Association of Long Beach Employees (ALBE), the workers were expressing their discontent about a prolonged contract negotiation; since the organization was officially recognized in 2016 after splitting off from the International Association of Mechanics and Aerospace Workers (IAM), they have yet to secure a contract.
In e-mail correspondence with the Business Journal following the walkout, which occurred during a public works department appreciation event, ALBE Administrator & Benefits Specialist Sheri Stevenson alluded to the possibility of a strike. “To be clear, no one wants a strike, but ALBE Members have been waiting too long for Raises, Rights, and Respect they deserve,” she wrote. “That should include modest cost of living increases and a schedule of equity increases to begin to adjust their compensation to the average of the 10 agencies the city chose to use for comparison purposes.”
According to a study conducted by ALBE last year, its members make less than those in similar positions across all 10 government agencies the City of Long Beach uses as a basis of comparison for salary and benefits.
Since it split off from IAM – which ALBE contends was not fighting hard enough for its members – ALBE agreed to abide by IAM’s memorandum of understanding with the City of Long Beach while its own contract was negotiated, according to Stevenson. She said that ALBE met with the city more than 20 times in 2016 and 2017 to try to reach an agreement. The city, however, offered the same terms as those IAM received in its 2016-2019 contract as its last, best and final offer. In other words, as Stevenson put it, the city proposed that ALBE members “adopt essentially the same MOU as the union they had worked so hard to break away from.” These terms were imposed on ALBE, although no contract has been agreed upon.
Negotiations resumed in October 2018, according to Stevenson, but no headway was made. The city and ALBE entered into mediation, but this process ultimately did not result in an agreement.
According to Phillips, the city manager abruptly ended mediation on May 13, and the ALBE members that walked out of the breakfast on May 22 were protesting that decision. Phillips said he hoped the breakfast walk out sent a message to the city manager. “I think we’re headed for probably the most serious labor dispute the city has ever seen. I think these people are just tired of it,” he said.
Alex Basquez, director of human resources for the City of Long Beach, told the Business Journal that, at ALBE’s request, the city is entering a fact-finding process. This involves convening a neutral panel that will hear from both sides in the matter and then issue a report with a recommendation.
Stevenson said the process would begin June 3. Once it is concluded, the report will go before the city council in a public hearing no earlier than July, she said. “The council’s answer will determine if that May breakfast was the only thing ALBE members need to walk away from,” she said.