At 4 in the afternoon, on November 1, Penn Forest Township administrative and maintenance employees ushered in a new era. After a year filled with firings, re-hirings and unilateral changes to the employee handbook, the employees formed a union under Teamsters Local 773.
The vote was taken under the watchful eye of Greg Bish, election official from the PA Dept. of Labor.
"The employees need 50 percent plus 1 vote to be successful" explained Bish.
The vote was unanimous in favor of the union.
"I just want to do my job and not have to be abused or bullied by the Supervisors. Anyone who attends the Board of Supervisors meeting can see the constant and unnecessary stress put on the employees. If we were incompetent or not showing up for work, I could understand. Penn Forest Township has excellent employees and they need to be treated with respect by the supervisors" explained township clerk, Cindy Henning. "I wonder how they would feel if someone treated their wife or their daughter or granddaughter like we are treated."
The township was notified in August by the PA Department of Labor that greater than 30 percent of the administrative and maintenance staff wished to form a union.
"A group of eight employees contacted Local 773 in early August" said Joe Wieder, an organizer with Teamsters 773 out of Allentown.
"The Labor Relation Act requires a minimum of 30 percent of the employees sign a petition which states that they are seeking union representation."
According to the Labor Relations Act, once the board determines that the 30 percent minimum has been met the board can either set a date for a hearing (if there are unresolved issues related to the number of employees or types of employees to be covered) or the board will set a date for an election.
"There was a conference call between the representatives of the various parties and the Department of Labor on October 10. It being determined that there were no unresolved issues the board set the election for November 1 at 4 PM" explained Attorney John Dean who was hired by Penn Forest Township Board of Supervisors to advise them on the matter.
The Labor Relations Act, which went into effect June 1, 1937, was created to "protect the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively" as well as creating the Labor Relations Board and empowering the board to take all of the necessary steps to carry out the provisions detailed in the act.
Section 5 of the Act specifically identifies the rights of employees under the act.
"Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection."
"I have been on both sides of the union fence, both as management and as an employee" stated Maryann Llewellyn, township secretary. "I firmly believe that the union was the last option for the employees of Penn Forest Township."
"I had never seen such a blatant disregard for employees" she went on to say. "I had been told 'that any trained monkey could do this job'. This problem has been allowed to go on for a number of years and I believe that the employees finally came together and said enough is enough; we don't want to worry day to day about our job security."
Now that the vote has been completed and the employees have chosen to be represented by the union a number of steps will have to be taken prior to a contract being put in place.
According to Bish both sides have 5 days to challenge the manner in which the vote was conducted. Barring any challenge, the Labor Relations Board will certify the election and the selection of Teamsters 773 to represent the employees.
The next step for the employees and the union will be to present the township and its attorney with a proposed contract.
The timing for the submission for the proposed contract has not been determined. There are two supervisors' positions up for election on November 5. Neither supervisor, Alan Katz or Paul Montemuro are on the ballot and will only serve on the board through the end of this year.
"We hadn't really taken the change in the board into consideration up to this point" said Wieder. "I have given the employees some sample contracts to review and will be meeting with them soon to discuss the details. We will determine the timing after we have had a chance to meet with the employees again."