Brownsville drops anti-union words from employee handbook

·3 min read

Jun. 22—Anti-union sounding language in the city of Brownsville's new Employee Handbook will be dropped after a June 21 city commission regular meeting in which no commissioner voiced support for retaining the language.

City Attorney Victor Flores delivered a brief presentation on the language in question, contained in the handbook's Employer Relations section. It reads: "Except for our Police Department and Fire Department, the City of Brownsville is a non-union employer. It is our goal to stay that way. By working together and dealing fairly and directly with our employees, we have been able to build a positive work environment supported by mutual respect and trust, without outsiders.

"Our success is based on constant interchange of ideas, operating flexibility, and individual initiative, all of which could be hampered by a union, and thus detrimental to the City and our employees. Unions have made no contribution to our progress in the past, and they are not needed for the progress that we will make in the future."

The language attracted public criticism at the commission's June 7 regular meeting and a letter from Cameron County Democratic Party Chairman Jared Hockema, who wrote that the language in question might violate the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Texas Government Code contains a right-to-work statute that prohibits public and private employers alike from denying employment to an individual "because of the individual's membership or nonmembership in a labor organization."

Flores told commissioners that the several meetings about the handbook involving department heads and employees dealt mainly with subjects such as vacation and leave, and that the collective-bargaining passages were overlooked. He advised commissioners that unless they wanted to official adopt the language, it could be dropped from the handbook via administrative action, without requiring formal action by the commission.

"I think the easiest thing to do is just see if there's anybody in the commission who wants that language in," Mayor Trey Mendez said during the meeting. "If not, then I think we're on the same page with (Flores)."

No member of the commission spoke in favor of keeping the language. In response to a question from District 3 Commissioner Roy De los Santos, Flores said the language in question was contained in the draft version of the handbook sent to employees for review before it went to the commission, but that no one mentioned it.

"I know throughout that I kept in contact with several employees as well, including union employees, and that was never anything I got feedback on the commission needing to address," De los Santos said.

Flores told the Brownsville Herald on Wednesday that an investigation by his office found that the language regarding unions was inserted by a consultant the city hired in January 2021 to do a complete rewrite of the handbook. While the language may be drafted in a way that's not quite illegal, it's too close for comfort from commissioners' perspective, he said.

"The city has said we don't even want to come close to making that statement," Flores said. "I think it really pushes the limits on the right-to-work statute."

Following the June 21 meeting Flores said he asked the city's Organizational Development and Human Resources directors to delete the language from the Employee Handbook and distribute and updated version to all city employees.

"That's the next step," he said.