Council approves new union contracts

At a special meeting Monday, City Council approved three-year contracts for police and non-uniformed workers that freeze wages and set other restrictions, as outlined in the city’s Act 47 distress recovery plan.

The contracts were “very much dictated by Act 47,” acting City Manager Omar Strohm said.

Despite those difficult circumstances, negotiations were “very congenial,” Strohm said.

“I compliment [the unions] for really sucking it up and being a big part of the solution,” Councilman Bruce Kelley said. “They’ve been super.”

There was hard work on both sides, said Drew Emswiler, president of the Fraternal Order of Police local, giving “at least equal credit” to the city for the “success” of negotiations.

Non-success would have meant going to arbitration, he said.

“It was the most equitable deal we could get under Act 47,” said Scott Campanaro, president of the American Federation of Federal, State and Municipal Employees union. “We’re working for a municipality that’s broke.”

But with wages frozen, healthcare insurance bound to rise and general inflation, it essentially means a reduction in employee income over three years, said Campanaro and AFSCME representative Tim Miller.

Council approved the contracts 6-0, with Erik Cagle absent.

The police unionists approved unanimously, while 96 percent of the non-uniformed workers okayed the deal, the presidents said.

The city’s firefighter’s union contract is going to arbitration this month, Strohm said.

The restrictions on that department’s compensation go into effect after the current contract expires at the end of the year, regardless whether there’s a new contract and despite any arbitration award, according to the recovery plan.

That recovery plan is emphatic about the need to control compensation costs, which comprise 81 percent of the city’s budget.

“The city cannot survive without restructuring its compensation packages so that employee compensation and workforce cost growth more closely track the achievable level of revenue for the city,” the plan stated.

There was no “leeway” beyond what Act 47 dictates, according to Strohm.

The recovery plan granted a “slice of the pie” for the worker groups, according to Emswiler and Campanaro.

The plan limits expenditures for police – whose personnel expenses were budgeted at $7.6 million for this year – to $7.85 million, $8 million and $7.74 million annually over the course of the contract.

The plan limits expenditures for the non-uniformed workers – budgeted this year at $4.1 million – to $4.32 million, $4.40 million and $4.46 million annually over the course of the contract.

The plan allows “step” increases, as recently hired workers graduate to full-fledged employees. But it freezes base wages – none of the usual “across the board” hikes.

The plan also freezes “longevity” payments, which are annual bonuses for full-fledged workers, calculated as a percentage of base pay, with percentages rising at five-year intervals.

The contracts limit overtime payments to hours actually worked, make “Community Blue” the basic health plan, increase worker health insurance contributions to $160 a month for police and $190 for non-uniformed workers, eliminate post retirement health coverage for police hired after the end of this year, prohibits retirees who are eligible for a non-city health plan comparable to that of current employees from using the city’s plan, eliminates the payment for police who waive health coverage and reduces it for non-uniformed workers and reduces sick leave days to 15 per year for police.

The contracts also eliminate the requirement that employees live in the city – although police must live within 45 minutes response time.

The police contract also brings that department’s pension plan into compliance with requirements outlined in the recovery plan, according to Councilman Mike Haire.

On some compensation matters, the parties could shift money around, provided they stuck to the budget, said the union presidents and Strohm.

The city proposed potential areas of savings that the unions could accept in exchange for credits elsewhere in the contract, Strohm said.

But there was no budging on wages or longevity, based on the recovery plan.

“This is the least painful deal we felt our group could get,” said Tim Miller, the AFSCME representative for the city local.

It’s something his workers can live with, Campanaro said.

“It was not an ideal situation,” Emswiler said. “[But] I think we made the best of it.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.