A strike by Town of Fort Smith employees is now inevitable, according to the president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW).
Town and union representatives were unable to reach a tentative agreement during a conciliation meeting May 30. Neither side is willing to budge on one issue. UNW Local 02 demanded the agreement specify that the town will not contract out services, which the town refuses to promise.
“We were unable to reach a tentative agreement, so what that means is currently we’re working with the employer to form an essential services agreement. It’s inevitable that a strike will occur this summer,” UNW president Todd Parsons told The Journal.
Three issues remain on the table – improved wages, improved Northern allowance and town council’s potential to contract out services. Although Parsons said he expects the union and town to settle on wages and Northern allowance, the membership is unwilling to concede the contracting issue.
Mayor Janie Hobart told The Journal the town’s negotiating team has tried to find a solution that’s acceptable to both sides, but she is unwilling to restrict future councils from being able to make contracting decisions concerning town services.
“We feel the wording that we have put forth is balanced. It provides job security, but it also does not take away the ability of council to properly operate the community,” Hobart said.
Fort Smith has contracted out several public services over the last decade, but has brought those services back under the town’s fold over time. Hobart said the town has no plans to contract out public services at this point. She noted the town purchased a water truck last year and has put a garbage truck in its capital budget for this year, facilitating more town-run public services.
Without a clause restricting council from contracting out public workers’ jobs, workers are primarily concerned about job loss and the reduction of services and service quality should the town put services in the hands of private business, Parsons said. Contracting services out also often means higher costs for community residents, he added.
According to Hobart, such restrictions would have an impact on town council’s ability to operate the municipality in a fiscally responsible manner.
Councillor Ron Holtorf, the sole member of council on the town’s negotiating team, told The Journal there could be more conciliation meetings scheduled to continue discussions with the union.
“It ain’t over,” Holtorf said.