CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Municipal League is sending a "call to arms" to all 232 municipal governments in the state, asking officials in towns and cities to oppose a federal bill that the league considers anti-democratic and fiscally irresponsible.
The message is in response to an amendment to a war-funding bill that recently made its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
House members amended the bill, which includes about $80 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some domestic programs, to include the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2009.
The act would require all city, county and state governments to enter into collective bargaining agreements with emergency services personnel - a measure that Municipal League Executive Director Lisa Dooley said West Virginians have rejected repeatedly.
"The mandatory collective bargaining provisions, should they become law, would directly and completely interfere with and in some cases override longstanding state and local laws governing public sector employment relationships," Dooley wrote in a letter to city officials throughout the state.
She is asking elected officials to pass resolutions opposing the language in the bill. She plans to forward each resolution to the offices of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
When reached for comment Thursday, Dooley said she thinks the fact that lawmakers buried the act in a war-spending bill "ought to suggest to someone that it can't stand on its own merit."
Charleston City Council will consider a resolution on the matter at its meeting Monday evening, officials said.
Council President Tom Lane said he is "adamantly opposed" to Congress mandating collective bargaining for local governments.
Lane said putting the act in the war-spending bill puts pressure on lawmakers to vote for it, lest they be seen as unwilling to support U.S. troops. He called that move "offensive."
The act would grant public safety officers the right to form and join a labor organization, require public safety employers to recognize the labor organization and provide for bargaining over wages, hours and work conditions.
The act also forbids public safety officers from going on strike, and likewise forbids public safety employers from conducting "lockouts." Instead of strikes and lockouts, parties engaging in negotiations would rely on arbitration, a practice in which disputes are settled legally by a neutral third party.
Lane, a Republican who serves as an at-large member of city council, said he thinks that would undermine the authority of elected officials to manage municipal budgets.
"The concept, in my opinion, is counter to our basic form of government where elected officials are responsible to tax dollars," Lane said. "If you have mandatory collective bargaining, you remove the budgeting function to a third-party arbiter who is not elected by the public. I am adamantly opposed to that."
Dooley said those in Congress who supported the measure don't understand the day-to-day job of managing local government.
"You have people passing these laws that know absolutely nothing about running a town or a city," Dooley said. "Congress is writing checks out of the municipal checkbook."
Of the more than 200 city and town governments in the state, Dooley said a slim minority bargain with their public safety employee unions.