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General employees union contract ratified

By Staff | Feb 24, 2015

After much discussion that at times turned confrontational, City Council voted 7-1 Monday night to ratify the contract agreements with the city’s four units of the general employees union.

The agreement follows the previous contracts negotiated with the city’s police and fire unions awarding a 5 percent raise in base pay effective Feb. 14, 2015, and a 5 percent retroactive pay raise back to Sept. 27, 2014. The new agreement runs through Sept. 30, 2015.

Continuing her stance against the retroactive raises for all three unions, Council Member Rana Erbrick cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the city can only go to the revenue source so many times before it runs dry.

“Retro is only a small portion of the picture, but I always have an issue with retro raises,” Erbrick said. “How many times are you going to depend on the same funding source? How do you make up the difference? Even the private sector doesn’t go along with these types of raises. Ten percent is too high at this time.”

It’s the first pay increase for general employees since 2007, who were asked to take an additional 3 percent cut only a few years ago and contribute more to their pensions. No one on the panel said the employees did not deserve the increases.

Councilmember John Carioscia tried to explain where the additional money would come from, saying the city expected a 4 percent boost in ad valorem tax revenue for 2015, but instead got about 8 percent.

“The money is there,” Carioscia said. “I’m not willing to give up $90,000 that was spent to train the 28 police officers that left the force in the last year, mostly for economic reasons. I want to keep our officers.”

Erbrick shot back, “My concern is for the 160,000 property owners out there. I’ve already heard rumblings about the tax cut we promised – yeah, not going to happen, and the FSA (Fire Service Assessment) is not in play yet. We just seem to forget the third partner in this process. The taxpayer.”

Carioscia countered that this was the first he had heard any mention of the city reneging on a tax cut (1 mil) promised with the passage of the Public Service Tax and Fire Service Assessment. He assured the public that he would work to see that promise is kept.

Councilmember Jim Burch agreed with Carioscia about the timing of the raises.

“There are a lot of ways to shave some money from the budget, but this is not the area to do so,” Burch said. “We have been assured the money is going to be there. I’m not sure it is the best process or the best solution, but it’s the best one we have right now.”

Mayor Marni Sawicki, who has been on a mission to “fix” the disparity in city salaries, wholeheartedly supported the agreement, but later voiced concerns about increases for non-bargaining employees that City Manager John Szerlag alerted council he would bring before them next Monday.

“I will approve this because every employee deserves this,” Sawicki said. “When I see some employees getting 49 percent under the maximum it shows we don’t have a plan in place yet to fix this. I will not throw money after something without every job being evaluated.

“I am not going to approve other requests that I don’t understand where the problems are. I will not vote on any future pay raises without a market analysis and comparables.”

Szerlag and City Attorney Delores Menendez attempted to cool the discussion ahead of next week’s presentation saying the request is to raise the pay ranges for non-bargaining employees by 10 percent, not hand out individual pay increases.

“It raises the range only, not salaries,” said Menendez. “If the range for a job classification is $20,000 to $40,000 and you raise that range by 10 percent, those employees at $20,000 would fall below the range by, say $2,000, and get a raise to stay within that range. It does not mean those at the top of the range would get a raise. They would stay where they are.”

Councilman Rick Williams added, “We need to take care of our employees because the employees are the city. The general employees are the ones who do the dirty work. Things will be different next year. We should not give blanket increases again. It will be based on merit for the job that’s being done.”

The 75 percentile (of the pay ranges) that Szerlag has repeatedly referred to in the union negotiations and the ongoing classification and compensation study came under fire from Carioscia, who maintained no one on council had approved as the benchmark goal. He went so far as to make a motion for staff to show council where the salaries stand compared to the 75 percentile figure.

The motion received little support from fellow members willing to wait for the completion of the study and Carioscia later withdrew it, saying, “I can count, so I will withdraw the motion.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell asked council to wait for the completion of the compensation study in June before making decisions on the current discussion.

“This just starts a three- to five-year process to lay this out and get it right,” Donnell said. “I am looking forward to laying out the plan and get this done.”

Council unanimously approved the one ordinance on the agenda requiring the city to update its five-year capital improvements plan per state statute.

Monday’s presentation on smartphone applications and options from IT director John MacLean was moved to a future workshop meeting at the request of Szerlag, who said an informative presentation was put together for council.

Council’s next regular meeting is next Monday at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall with a workshop meeting set for Wednesday, March 4, at 4:30 at the Nicholas Annex.