Public Works union members hold rally

March 26, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Members of the union representing Huntington’s Public Works Department held a rally Monday in support of better wages amid contract negotiations with the city.

AFSCME Local 598, the city’s Public Works Department union, rallied in front of City Hall for what they said has been a lack of decent wages offered by the city during contact negotiations.

During his State of the City address last month, Mayor Steve Williams offered each of the city’s bargaining units, including AFSCME, a 2 percent wage increase within the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.

However, that increase does not consider other factors such as the rising cost of living, utility rate increases and changes to health insurance, said Chris Herring, AFSCME Local 598 president. Herring said union leaders have been negotiating with city leaders over the proposed wage increase and have recently reached an impasse.

“We gave offers and they countered back,” Herring said. “We feel like the money they want to give us is not enough. It may be a little harsh to say it, but we feel the money we saved the city with the programs we implemented, that we deserve a raise.”

Herring said members of the Public Works Department signed on to a program agreeing to perform light duty work instead of filing workers’ compensation claims for minor injuries.

Members also agreed to seek out medical clinics instead of going to emergency rooms for illnesses.

Both of those changes have saved the city money in the long run, he said.

“We want to meet in the middle, but right now we are not there,” he said.

In a statement Monday, Williams said the city’s contract offer fulfills goals that he set out to achieve since being elected, including “a contract that provides a more-than-fair wage, job stability and being treated with dignity at the workplace.”

“We are offering the highest wage in the history of the AFSCME contract. We also are guaranteeing their health insurance benefits with no premium cost increases for three years. We also are not taking anything away from AFSCME in our contract offer,” Williams said.

“It appears that AFSCME’s membership is receiving inaccurate information from their local leadership. This is an ongoing negotiation, and we’ve become accustomed to these tactics.”

Christy Green, who works within the city’s Sanitation Department, said Monday’s rally is about more than just wages, it’s also about being respected by leadership. Members of the Public Works Department often go beyond their job duties to ensure work is completed the right way, she said.

When a garbage tuck breaks down, sanitation members load garbage bags into city pickup trucks.

“They get out there and they do the job,” Green said. “They just want to be compensated.”

Herring said contract negotiations were expected to continue this week. However, he said Monday’s rally might have postponed ongoing discussions.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.