The union that triumphed over Fresno City Hall two months ago will now decide whether it's time for labor peace.
More than 600 members of the city's blue-collar union are slated to vote next week on a new contract, nearly 15 months after their old deal expired.
Top officials in the administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Stationary Engineers Local 39 say they've reached a tentative agreement. Neither side would hint Wednesday at the terms, saying they'll keep mum until after workers cast their ballots.
The City Council held a 40-minute, closed-door meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the proposed deal, but took no action rising to the level of a public announcement.
However, council members must have liked what they heard because things are moving swiftly. Marina Magdaleno, Local 39's business representative, said she'll spend next Tuesday explaining the proposed deal to members at union headquarters in northwest Fresno. Voting will be held throughout next Wednesday and Thursday. Magdaleno said the final tally should be known Thursday night.
She helped craft the tentative agreement, but sounded anything but happy with the result. She said the union understands that city finances, though much improved in recent months, are still precarious.
"We're trying to work with them," Magdaleno said.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said he is "cautiously optimistic."
There's good reason for such a tepid courtship. Local 39 with Magdaleno at the helm and the administration with Swearengin in command have spent the last three years in a fight of rare ferocity.
The union represents an array of trades. Its members help keep the buses rolling, the sewer system churning, the fresh water flowing, and the annual neighborhood clean-up bustling, to name just a few of the services Fresnans often take for granted.
But Local 39 in the minds of many is now synonymous with solid waste -- trash.
This is the union that represented the drivers and support workers who lost their city jobs when City Council, for months seemingly incapable of making up its mind, voted in 2011 to outsource the city's commercial trash service.
Swearengin said dire city finances forced her hand. Local 39 protested loudly and often, but yielded to superior force.
The mayor returned to the council in mid-2012 with a similar warning. She said paychecks might bounce if the city didn't embrace an offer from Mid Valley Disposal for the outsourcing of the city's residential trash service.
A huge signing bonus and millions in annual franchise fees were at stake. So, too, were the jobs of perhaps as many as 150 workers, including nearly 100 drivers. Most of those facing a major career change were members of Local 39.
The union this time fought back. With Council Members Sal Quintero, Blong Xiong and Oliver Baines in their corner, trash workers beat long odds to get the outsourcing question on a special-election ballot.
Voters in June narrowly rejected outsourcing.
The historic and bitter Measure G campaign did not travel a straight or simple path. One of the issues, far from the juiciest in the public's eye but of immense interest to insiders on both sides, was Local 39's expired contract.
If outsourcing won at the polls, then no worry. Labor challenges on the trash side would reside with Mid Valley.
But if outsourcing lost, then the Magdaleno-Swearengin labor talks would resume. On one side would be an emboldened Local 39. On the other side would be a mayor still committed to her nearly two-year-old Fiscal Sustainability Policy.
Swearengin views the policy as pivotal to Fresno's financial health. Among other things, she vows an end to long labor contracts. She wants to reform work rules. She insists that the generous wages of city workers adjust to a size in keeping with one of the state's poorest regions.
Administration officials on occasion worried during the Measure G campaign about the productivity of city trash drivers.
Leaders of the city's dozen or so unions view Swearengin's Fiscal Sustainability Policy as a declaration of war on working men and women. During the Measure G campaign, Magdaleno routinely blasted specifics of Swearengin's policy. In particular, Magdaleno felt Swearengin was comparing apples to oranges when the mayor said trash drivers were key to balancing the general fund.
The fund is discretionary money spent at the will of elected officials. Trash drivers as part of an enterprise department are funded with customer checks designed to do nothing other than keep the trucks on duty, Magdaleno said.
One other wrinkle: City officials are now chewing on whether to raise residential trash rates, an irony not lost on a mayor who tried to convince voters that passage of Measure G was the only way to ensure lower rates in the near future.
All this gives context to the tension evident in the subdued public comments of Magdaleno and Rudd as next week's contract vote nears. Is the proposed deal going to Local 39 members a sign of Swearengin's comeback? Is it two wins in a row for Magdaleno?
Or will the city's blue-collar union say no to the contract and yes to a renewed battle?