Hourly employees in the public works department of the City of Canfield, Ohio ratified their first union contract on November 8, capping off a successful two-year campaign in which the workers also faced down brazen acts of anti-union intimidation by the city manager.
The contract victory secures a successful organizing drive from September 2019, when employees in the Youngstown suburb elected UWUA as their bargaining representative. Soon after the election, the Canfield employees joined Local 425, which has long represented employees of water utility Aqua Ohio in the region.
“I can’t say enough about the perseverance of Canfield employees,” stated Local 425 President Cliff Deem. “These union workers stayed steadfast throughout a tough fight, and solidarity from UWUA members and staff brought them out on top.”
City management frustrated negotiations throughout the process with a series of unfair demands, including refusal to agree to any binding procedure for a fair distribution of emergency overtime between union workers and front-line supervisors.
The city’s conduct took an even uglier turn in June 2021, when City Manager Wade Calhoun threatened to fire the entire union workforce to intimidate employees against the UWUA and to try to stifle the union’s support for proposed city charter amendments that would make city leaders more accountable to voters. The UWUA quickly filed legal charges with the State Employee Relations Board over the threats.
The union also mobilized Canfield residents against the city’s abusive conduct, prompting complaints from voters to city council members about the intimidation and the lack of progress for a fair contract.
The morning after the election — when nearly 45% of Canfield residents voted in favor of the city charter reforms — city management reversed course, dropped its unfair bargaining demands, and agreed to the same terms the union bargaining committee had offered months earlier.
“We have enormous respect for the UWUA for standing up to help us win this contract,” stated Jim Fox, rank-and-file member of the bargaining committee.
Fox especially credited UWUA National Representative Rich Cossell — who led the 2019 organizing drive and the union’s bargaining committee — and Deem and other Local 425 leaders, who also stood by Canfield workers every step of the way.
“We learned a lot through this fight that we plan to use in the future to build even better working conditions for our members,” Fox said.