Public works and other municipal employees in Newton have joined forces with the Teamsters Local 25 union, a spokesman announced Monday.
The decision comes against the backdrop of ongoing contract negotiations with the city and a close mayoral race that Ruthanne Fuller won without union support last fall.
But both union members and the mayor downplayed the impact of the election on the move to join a far bigger labor organization.
“Good union representation is vital to [our employees] and to us,” Fuller said in an interview hours after a meeting Tuesday with local union presidents, which included a representative from the Teamsters.
“The Teamsters are a great union,” she said, “and we look forward to working with them.”
The 178 workers joining Local 25 include about half of the city’s Department of Public Works employees, as well as Parks and Recreation and public building employees, according to DPW Commissioner Jim McGonagle.
They were previously represented by the Newton Municipal Employees Association.
In February, they voted 86 to 55 to join the Teamsters, and the move was approved by the state March 2, McGonagle said.
Richard Gately, president of the municipal employees association, said in an interview that internal divisions within the union regarding contract negotiations prompted the change, noting that there was a movement to join the Teamsters two years ago, but it didn’t go forward.
“Certain individuals weren’t in agreement with what was going on around here, that we weren’t doing a good enough job with different arbitration agreements and representation,” he said by phone. “It was a split within the union.”
Gately, who opposed the change, said he was particularly disappointed because he had been ready to agree to a new one-year contract with the city when the process to join the Teamsters began, halting negotiations to update a previous deal that expired in June.
“Their bargaining power was limited because of resources,” said Teamsters Local 25 president Sean O’Brien, who cited the benefits of his larger organization. “We are strong enough politically and financially to take on a town.”
Municipal workers have also joined Teamsters Local 25 from communities including Cambridge, Medford, Watertown, Waltham, Everettand Hingham.
Overall, public sector employees — most of them in public works positions — make up about 1,500 of the 11,500 workers Teamsters Local 25 represents, O’Brien said.
“We’ve been really successful at negotiating strong contracts in [similar] cities,” like Waltham and Watertown, O’Brien explained in a phone interview. He expects a new contract for Newton workers in four to six months.
Fuller said she did not have a timeline in mind for the negotiation process, but she emphasized her support of union workers in the city.
“We’re reaching out with our team and I believe deeply in being accessible and an active listener and working together not only with residents but also unions and union membership,” she said.
She also cited the fact that the city’s new human resources director, Karen Glasgow, begins work Monday.
The position has been vacant for several years.
“Our employees are the lifeblood of this city,” Fuller said.