Labor fight spills into St. Louis mayoral battle

2013-02-18T16:00:00Z 2013-02-19T14:41:14Z Labor fight spills into St. Louis mayoral battleBy Nicholas J.C. Pistor npistor@post-dispatch.com 314-436-2239 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • Questions from union representatives and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed prompted Mayor Francis Slay's administration to withdraw a new document requiring the signature of all new city hires.

The document, called a "benefits acknowledgement form," stated in several legalistic sentences that the city may "modify, amend, reduce or terminate" pension, health and disability benefits at any time during their employment, causing confusion among represented employees.  The document did include, however, the words "unless otherwise agreed through the collective bargaining process..."  The jargon caused concern from union organizations and thrust the issue into the ongoing mayoral battle.    

Slay conceded that the letter was "drafted in legalese and was subject to misinterpretation." But he said it would not change employee benefits or city policy.

"It's not new. It just basically restates what the law is," he said. "It doesn't change the law, it doesn't change any benefits at all."

Slay ordered the change on Monday morning after meeting with the St. Louis Labor Council and the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, two groups that have backed his re-election.  

On the steps of City Hall, mayoral candidate Reed stood with JoAnn Williams, a representative for the Carpenters' union, which has endorsed Reed, and protested the document before a crowd of union workers.  

Reed alleged the  "Slay administration quietly began implementing the most draconian anti-employee policy in the history of the City of St. Louis."

In a press release, Williams stated: "This anti-employee, anti-union action by the Slay administration cannot be defended nor tolerated by any current or future city employee."

Williams and Reed contended that the document was meant to "stop firefighters from claiming benefits as a "contractual or property right."

Jeff Rainford, Slay's chief of staff, said the city will work with labor to come up with better language for a new waiver form.  

Follow reporter Nick Pistor on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nickpistor

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