Scottville city employees unionize in response to recent turmoil 

December 2, 2022

Scottville city employees unionize in response to recent turmoil 

SCOTTVILLE — The full time employees of the City of Scottville have formed a union, in response to recent turmoil within the City Commission. The six employees have joined the Technical, Professional, and Office Workers Association (TPOAM). City Manager Jimmy Newkirk, as an administrator who has a contract with the City Commission, is not part of the union. 

In a letter to the City Commission from union president Justin Coolman, who works in the city’s department of public works, Coolman states the “employees of the city have been approached several times over the last few months about what’s next, and where do we go from here. I think it’s an understatement to say that everyone involved has been trampled with undesired stress, family problems, accusations, etc.”

Coolman told MCP that there has been talk about forming a union over the past few years, but recent events created contradicting statements of some city commissioners has caused the employees to organize. 

“Every city employee, over the last several months, has been approached by various citizens who said that there are some city commissioners who have been telling people that they plan on shaking things up with the city staff,” Coolman said. 

“The city employees used to be like a family, including members of the city commission. We had great leadership under Mayor Marcy Spencer. But now, we have commissioners who we have heard have been telling the citizens that they want to make major changes with the city’s staff. Now, that they have been called out on that, they are telling people that those rumors aren’t true. We just don’t know what to believe and want to protect ourselves.” 

Coolman said the decision to form a union is not a reflection of the leadership of City Manager Jimmy Newkirk or previous Mayor Marcy Spencer. 

“Jimmy has been very supportive of the city staff and has agreed that creating a union would be a good step to protect our jobs. Marcy devoted countless hours to this city and cared deeply about our well being.” 

By charter, the city manager is the only city employee who has authority to hire or terminate city staff while the city commission’s authority is limited to hiring the city manager and city attorney. 

“We seem to have some commissioners who don’t understand their role,” Coolman said. “Our previous mayor and mayor pro-tem understood the role of the commission and respected the city’s employees. They worked very hard to make sure that we were treated well. We just don’t feel that sense of security or trust now.” 

Coolman said one of the biggest concerns of the staff is a recent discovery that they were never offered a pension contribution as approved by the city commission in April 2021 prior to Newkirk becoming city manager. See related story here. The city recently was informed that it owes over $45,000 to the employees’ pension plan, but the employees must also pay into the plan if they wish to receive the 6% match. 

Newkirk said the employees’ contribution, in order to catch up to their entitled benefit approved by the Commission, would take place over 26 pay periods and would cost the employees between $200 and $300 per week, depending on the employee’s pay and contribution level. Newkirk said he is working with the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) to attempt an extended payment period. 

“We need to know how the city is going to fix this and we need assurances,” Coolman said. “It’s a shame that this has happened and that it was an issue that was caused by a temporary city manager. In no way do we blame Mr. Newkirk for this. But, the employees and the city’s taxpayers will have to make up the difference.” 

Coolman was referring to former police chief Matt Murphy, who was serving as acting city manager in April 2021. Through a resolution, Murphy was instructed by the city commission to immediately enroll the city staff into the pension match program, but he only offered the match to the police department. The issue was recently discovered by Newkirk when he was reviewing benefits offered to city employees.

Joining the union are fellow DPW employees Marc Hansen and Richard Morse, Treasurer Kathy Shafer, Clerk Kelse Lester, and Police Department Sgt./Acting Chief Katrina Skinner. 

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