Buffalo Rapids’ union talks begin

  Members of the Buffalo Rapids Union Strategy subcommittee met last week to discuss upcoming negotiations with union representatives. The five-member subcommittee, including three BR Board of Control commissioners and two water users from the irrigation project, will meet with representatives from the International Operating Engineers on Wed. Dec 16 to begin talks on employee contracts.

The hour-and-half subcommittee discussion included a phone conference with federal mediator John Handel. Based out of Helena, Handel explained a federal or state mediator is usually called in to help with negotiations when talks come to a sticking point. Hendel said mediators will generally separate parties and work with each individually to help the process along. He encouraged the group not to be fearful of meeting with union representatives.
“No one ever says you have to say yes just because you meet at the table,” Handel said, pointing out it can be a “scary process” for those who haven’t gone through it.
Handel pointed to three options that existed if the BR subcommittee needed help. They included: Hiring a labor attorney, hiring a management consultant or using the state mediator service - the only option of the three that is free.
Noting BR is “starting from scratch” Handel said it could likely take up to six months before an agreement is reached.
A union-friendly attorney could shorten that time while a union-buster attorney will likely lengthen negotiations, Handel said. 
He encouraged the group to examine other area union contracts to provide a framework to follow.
Union reps will put forth their proposal, Hendel said, which will include topics on benefits, wages and working conditions. Topics that the BR Board of Control should maintain include hiring and firing practices, discipline and other policy procedures. 
Handel expressed some surprise that BR employees had contacted a union.
“It is a little more unusual out there in eastern Montana,” Handel said of union representation. “Sounds like they got scared.”
The five subcommittee members are: Rick Harding, Ric Holden, Barry Rakes, Doug Buxbaum and James Whitmer.

Published Dec. 16, 2009

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