The Nogales City Council signed off earlier this month on a one-year contract renewal with a union that represents city employees outside the fire and police departments.
The deal means no changes, but it also shows that the local Communications Workers of America union has held on after a year in which it saw its membership fall by half, accused city management of “union-busting” and survived an effort by another employee group to supplant it.
Now, CWA counts 43 members at the city, after two ended their membership during the annual drop period from June 14-30, according to Carmen Fuentes, the city’s human resources director. Earlier this year, Fuentes said that a total of 143 city employees are classified as “non-confidential” and eligible for the CWA union.
The current total is up from the 34 union members counted last September, after 37 stopped their membership during the June 2019 drop period.
Last September, CWA Local 7000 President Linda Hatfield called for an investigation into what she described as “union-busting” and “intimidation” by city employees supporting another workers’ organization, the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, or AZCOPS.
The city agreed to pay for an independent investigator to look into the claims, but the report produced by Tucson lawyer Teresa Flores didn’t explicitly confirm or reject the allegations.
The report’s “Conclusion” section began: “Ms. Hatfield’s allegations about some of the activities and actions occurring are sustained in part and are not substantiated regarding the reasons why some things occurred as they did.”
And, it continued: “Fundamentally, the underlying issue associated with the high rate of attrition for CWA members in 2019 is related to a perceived lack of customer service/member support and not a plan or scheme to poach members from CWA.”
(Flores’ report did, however, surface a number of workplace issues in the Public Works Department, including complaints surrounding pay and alleged time fraud, as well as union member complaints about CWA.)
Hatfield said at the time that she disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
Then in February, a newly formed group called the Nogales City Employees Association (NCEA) announced that it was gathering signatures in an attempt to take over from CWA as the bargaining organization for non-confidential city employees.
The NCEA had ties to AZCOPS and the Nogales Police Officers Association, the union for Nogales Police Department officers.
But the NCEA’s challenge came to an abrupt end after CWA lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter dated Feb. 28, stating that the group’s attempt to topple CWA in Nogales violated a “no-raid agreement” between CWA and AZCOPS that dated to 2011.
That apparently stopped the NCEA and AZCOPS challenge in its tracks.
“From the AZCOPS perspective, it’s done,” Martin Bihn, a lawyer for both AZCOPS and NCEA, said at the time. “They’re not recruiting, they’re not looking to take over, they’re doing nothing. They’ve got to honor the agreement.”
Shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic forced local governments to modify their operations; a spat between the Nogales mayor and former city manager that led to the manager leaving the post also shook up business at City Hall.
But for now, the contract renewal, approved at the council’s July 1 meeting, appears to solidify the union’s position in the city, where it has represented non-classified employees since 2004.