Carnation settles labor complaint, addresses layoffs

A labor complaint filed against the city of Carnation was settled for a small payout last week.

On March 7, the Carnation City Council agreed to settle an unfair labor practice complaint and pay $3,240 to Teamsters Local 736, a labor union that represents city public works and clerical staff. The funds will cover the union’s legal fees, according to the agreement.

The complaint was filed by the union in September through the state Public Employment Relations Commission. The union claimed the city failed to provide a job description document for a public works position after making a request in late August.

As part of the agreement, the city also agreed to post a notice outside city hall saying they have “a legal duty to turn over information and/or documents requested by Teamsters Local 736 …”

Carnation City Manager Ana Cortez said during an interview the city failed to comply with the union’s request and agreed to settle to avoid legal costs. Cortez said the staff member responsible for completing the union’s request had been away on a medical emergency at the time.

The complaint is one of two the union has filed against the city over the past year.

In December, Teamsters filed another complaint alleging the city was not bargaining in good faith when it offered a regressive contract, inferior to its previous offer. The union withdrew that complaint in mid-January, according to an email obtained via a records request.

Jason Powell, a business agent for Teamsters 736, said the settlement was a result of the city “not proving legal information that we had rights to.”

While not directly connected, the settlement comes after the city laid off four union-represented employees last month. That occurred around the same time a new collective bargaining agreement, including a pay raise, was approved by the city council.

“When the city laid off our members and eliminated our positions we believe that violated the labor agreement,” Powell said, noting they had filed two grievances with the city under their bargaining agreement.

City spokesperson Ashlyn Farnworth said they look forward to arbitration with the union and hopes for a productive outcome.

City Manager Cortez told the Valley Record in a recent interview that layoffs are part of a sweeping change to make the city more efficient and are not connected to the collective bargaining agreement.

Realignment at City Hall has been happening since July, Cortez said. Over that span, the city has overhauled its staff and eliminated four positions, including two accounting clerks, an economic development technician and a maintenance worker. The city currently has seven full-time staffers with two vacancies.

“The positions that we had before reflect a stagnant city where people are in charge of transactions,” Cortez said. “The staff we have now reflects a city that is entrepreneurial, that is innovative.”

Cortez said Carnation had fallen behind other Valley cities in terms of embracing economic development and creating sufficient levels of service. She said there is a need to “catch up” for Carnation to be a sustainable and independent city.

Cortez, who has been with the city since 2021, said when she arrived a majority of the city’s employees were doing transactional work. For example, she said, the city had one employee spending at least half their time on business licenses, a process the state does for free.

“There’s no way the city could go to the next level with transactional employees — that’s to some degree management 101,” Cortez said. “Then, the question is, can you afford to bring everyone along? And we did the best we could.”

Her approach has not gone without pushback, which was evident last month when a crowd voiced frustration with the sudden changes at City Hall during a tense and at times rowdy city council meeting.

Cortez, who was not involved in negotiations, described that meeting as hostile, noting she and a councilmember felt threatened. Since the layoffs, Cortez said she has been intimidated and flipped off, and has received disparaging comments regarding her race.

Cortez, who immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador as a teenager just prior to the Salvadoran Civil War, called the level of hostility disappointing.

“In a democracy, threatening others who don’t agree with us is dangerous,” she said.

This story has been updated from the way it appeared in print to include additional information.