ST. PETE BEACH — Threats of worker intimidation and disrespectful bargaining tactics were among concerns voiced by the labor union that represents St. Pete Beach employees during a recent City Commission meeting.

During the public comment portion of the Jan. 22 meeting, Ron Rice, president of Communication Workers of America Local 3179, which represents the city’s field employees, told commissioners there are some issues that they may not be aware of as negotiations for the union’s next contract are underway.

“We have seen some strong anti-union, union busting behavior out of your management team,” Rice said. “We have seen a ratio of disciplines given that far exceeds last year’s ratio. … We have seen firing of union members and termination of union members. Members of the bargaining team have freaked out and yelled at me across the table, when simple questions have been asked.”

He said new hires who have every right under labor law to join a labor union are threatened that their jobs will be taken away if they sign a card.

“I don’t know if this is something you all are aware of. I want to give you credit as not being aware of that. I would like to think that in the world we live in today that that kind of stuff would not be going on; but these are the problems we are seeing and having right now,” Rice added.

Francis Finnan, a former Public Works employee, told commissioners intimidation and racism has taken place, with public works employees who are union members.

“The fear that is being created in public works needs to stop,” he told commissioners.

City Manager Wayne Saunders, referring to Rice’s remarks, told commissioners, “(Rice) has not contacted me with any complaints or any of these issues, and as far as I know has not made any attempt to contact me on those, so I’ll be reaching out to him to find out what’s that all about.”

Mayor Al Johnson asked Saunders; “So this is the first you heard about it, as well.”

“Absolutely, they have not reached out to me at all so I’ll be contacting him,” Saunders answered.

Saunders also said he did not ignore complaints provided by Finnan.

“We contacted our labor attorney and we immediately started a review with what he was concerned about and we are still continuing with that,” he said.

Attorney Andrew Dickman advised commissioners, “there are a few labor disputes happening right now which are part of EEOC issues, so if you are contacted by anything related to that just be aware to be judicious and careful, and maybe defer to the attorneys.”

Dickman explained there is active litigation against the city, and he believes there are at least two other actions that are moving toward a grievance that may turn into litigation.

“Just be cautious about having any conversations if you are approached. I know it’s hard; people want to talk to you; it’s a small island.

In phone interview, Mayor Johnson said during his travels, when speaking with Public Works employees, he has been told about grievances within the department and has addressed those concerns with the city manager during weekly meetings.

The mayor said he knew about potential labor litigation that the city may be involved in.

He also said the commission oversees the city manager who is responsible for overseeing daily operations and addressing complaints and issues.

The mayor said he was not aware of complaints that the bargaining unit has been treated with disrespect during negotiations or allegations of racism or intimidation.

“I don’t accept that kind of stuff,” Johnson said.

He said he will ask the city manager about it.

“I want to know the details and don’t want to be blindsided,” he added.

In other action

Visitors to Suntan Art Center’s Pass-A-Grille Beach Art Market will get to stay at the fair a bit longer on weekends, after city commissioners granted the group a two-hour extension.

Jennifer McMahon, city recreation director, explained at the Nov. 13 commission meeting the commission approved an agreement with Suntan Art Center to rent the Pass-A-Grille concession stand patio on the weekends to run art markets.

The market helps create much-needed operating revenue for the Art Center.

“After a few weeks working with the vendors and running the operation, they are requesting an additional two hours for the market to run during season (January – April),” she said.

Currently the city’s agreement with Suntan states that setup time is from 8 to 9 a.m.; the market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with tear down from 2 to 3 p.m.

Suntan requested the setup to remain 8 to 9 a.m., but under an amendment to the agreement the market runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with tear down from 4 to 5 p.m.