CHANGES — CityLine Trolley driver Chuck Michael prepares to depart from trolley station in downtown Kokomo.

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2185’s membership is in the midst of swelling after city transportation drivers were given the nod to join the local union.

Last week the Kokomo Board of Public Works and Safety gave unanimous approval for Spirit of Kokomo and CityLine Trolley drivers to join AFSCME Local 2185 after the majority of the transportation employees voted in favor of the move.

“I think any public employee, or any employee working in any setting, private or public, has a paramount right to belong to a union if they so choose,” said Randy McKay, the board of works president. “It is clear here the overwhelming majority have selected to be represented by a union. As one of the members pointed out, there are a number of international unions that I understand workers met with. They decided they prefer AFSCME to represent them, and it’s my privilege to honor that.”

The board’s approval sets the stage for collective bargaining between the city and transportation employees. According to Jeff Haworth, the president of AFSCME Local 2185, the goal is to complete negotiations and ratify the contract for the new union members by the end of the year.

James Goaziou, who has been a Spirit of Kokomo driver for 17 months, said the desire for the employees to join the union was born of multiple factors. For one, the majority of the drivers are part time, and the hope is the ratification of a contract would move workers to fulltime status. Additionally, drivers are also seeking better benefits. By and large, he said the intention at this point would be to ratify the contract AFSCME presently has with the city, but specific provisions would be carved out for the transportation drivers.

“My mindset about it is it will benefit all of these drivers immensely … All the drivers now are part time,” said Goaziou. “Once this is completed they’ll be fulltime. Along with that, we would follow the general AFSCME contract that the AFSCME folks have now. They would also gain in terms of paid vacation days, sick vacation and personal leave benefits, which are all the standard benefits that the city provides city employees under the AFSCME contract.”

With the unionization underway, Local 2185’s membership is set to swell significantly. About 40 employees serve as drivers for the city’s Spirit of Kokomo and CityLine Trolley systems. Of those, around 28 voted in favor of joining the union. So, union leadership projected at least that many would likely be joining AFSCME’s ranks, adding to its current membership of just less than 100. Haworth said more may jump on board too as the process continued, but it wasn’t mandated due to Indiana’s status as a right to work state.

“That may go up. I believe it will go up once we have a contract negotiated when they see this because it’s a pretty big leap in revenue, income, and benefits for the people,” said Haworth. “So, undoubtedly, they’ll join.”

After last week’s meeting Haworth heaped praise on those who would be joining AFSME’s ranks.

“I’d like to add how proud of the courage it took for them to reach out in wanting to organize because it’s very scary,” said Haworth. “What we heard in the beginning is everyone was worried about losing their jobs. Sometime that happens, but we’ll both be growing and learning. We’re more than happy to step up and help the drivers and welcome them to our union. We’ll do everything we can to help them … We’re all kind of on a level playing field, and we have a voice, which is big. That’s why I’m on the union, because we have a voice. Is everything perfect? No, but we try to address the issues and make everything fair and right.”

Haworth also thanked Mayor Greg Goodnight, who urged the Board of Works to approve the request by the city drivers after being contacted by AFSCME Council 962 requesting the union recognition. The union president also offered gratitude to the members of the Board of Works and others involved in the city administration.