The city of Grand Island, Neb., has voluntarily recognized five community service officers as members of Local 1597.

The new members enforce codes on property and parking, assist police, and work with other city departments to resolve code violations or prepare evidence for court.

“We are pleased that more workers in Grand Island are seeing the benefits that come from being part of organized labor and the IBEW,” says Local 1597 Business Manager Dan Quick.

Quick says the service officers’ concerns centered on wages and safety. Because they were not represented, they were not included in healthy wage increases negotiated by the local covering workers in Grand Island’s utility and finance department and wastewater treatment plant, Quick says.

The city’s voluntary recognition of service officers in February builds upon Local 1597’s growing success in organizing, collective bargaining and community engagement in Grand Island.

Community service officers in Grand Island, Neb., celebrate with leaders of Local 1597 after the city granted voluntary recognition, including them in wage increases negotiated by the local. From left are Isabel Kenhon, Christina Wemhoff, Rochelle Cellar, Donald Kerlin, Cody Harrie, Brandon Kopisch, Kala Suntych, and Local 1597 Vice President Larry Grim and Business Manager Dan Quick.

A January 2013 story in The Electrical Worker, Nebraska Local Helps Defeat Water Plant Privatization details the local’s leading role in mobilizing city residents to stop the takeover of its wastewater treatment plant by a privately-held company, protecting the jobs of 13 workers who maintain the city’s plant.

The city had insisted in the past that its employees vote on whether to be represented. But times and relationships have changed as the union’s influence has grown. The city’s attorney, Bob Sivick told The Independent he expected the community service officers to want to be represented and that postponing a vote would result in “animosity which would have been needless.”

The initial organizing meeting with community service officers included Eleventh District International Representative Rich Michel, Lead Organizer Louis Spencer, Local 1597 Vice President Larry Grim and Quick. Workers signed union cards at the second meeting last December.

Nebraska, a right-to-work state, has its own court, the Commission of Industrial Relations, which rules on issues between labor and management. IBEW and Grand Island abide by CIR’s method of determining wages of public employees by comparing the compensation of workers in municipalities with populations of similar size. 

The latest survey on population and wages compared Grand Island with Rapid City, S.D., Iowa City, Iowa, and others, and found that wages in Grand Island lagged behind. So the city’s administrators and IBEW negotiated wage increases to be spread across the four-year contracts in effect covering the city’s bargaining units.

Community service officers will now be entitled to the same increases. Four part-time community service workers will share in any wage increases negotiated, but will not be part of the bargaining unit.

Local 1597 represents workers in 17 public employee bargaining units covered by 18 contracts in several cities and towns.