City AFSCME OKs contract

Published 11:10 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 771, which represents many of the City of Ironton’s non-uniformed workers, have approved a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with the city.

The deal, which still requires city council approval, will cover February 2009 through January 2012. It encompasses 44 city employees who work in street, sanitation, flood, water, sewer, income tax and water collections. Police dispatchers and the meter maid position are also included.

Though it is a three-year agreement, the contract does contain a wage only re-opener after two years. Employees will receive a 50-cent raise each year for both 2009 and 2010. The 50-cent raise for 2009 is retroactive back to Feb. 1.

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This is the first multi-year agreement the city has had with Local 771 since 2006.

All contracts since were one-year agreements.

Health premiums will stay the same as the existing contract with the city picking up 95-percent of costs and employees picking up the remaining five-percent.

“The whole contract was a give and take between the city and the union,” Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship said.

“It was a lot of work on both parts and I feel both sides benefited from this.”

An item of significance that the union allowed to be removed from the agreement was wage protection under a “me-too” clause. A “me-too” clause is a provision that anytime a union within the government’s jurisdiction gets a benefit, the other unions get it too.

For example, if an employer grants any group of bargaining units an annual wage increase in excess of the current one inked with the unit under the “me-too” clause, the increase provided would be amended to conform to that higher percentage increase.

Blankenship said that the “me-too” clause has prevented the city from having independent discussions with Local 771 in the past as contracts ratified with AFSCME could be altered based on new collective bargaining agreements with both the police and firefighters unions.

Calls made by The Tribune to AFSCME Local 771 President Larry Wells seeking comment on the contract were not returned.

Also in the contract was a vacation premium for union workers who had been with the city for more than 20 years to earn a day of vacation for every two additional years worked up to 30-years.

Currently those with 20 years earn five weeks vacation.

The new agreement would allow those with 30 years to earn six weeks of vacation time.

Additionally, the contract introduced an incentive plan for city workers who would earn an additional $75 per quarter for having perfect attendance.

It also allowed city workers the day after Thanksgiving off and free Hepatitis B shots for those who work in conditions where the virus could be present.

Blankenship represented the city during negotiations while the union was represented by five of its members and their union designee.

City council’s finance committee approved the contract on Thursday and sent the emergency legislation to council for passage.

However, city council didn’t have enough members present to suspend the rules for emergency passage, meaning the ordinance will be read again at council’s March 26 meeting.

Relations between the union and the city have had their peaks and valleys this decade.

A two-year agreement ratified in 2006 brought the union their first raises in more than three years.

In 2004, eight union members were laid off as the city tried to bridge a $500,000 gap between revenue and expenses.

The union threatened to strike following the layoffs, but reconsidered at the 11th hour following a vote.

Though the lack of a 25-cent raise was given as the official reason, behind the scenes the union was allegedly concerned about additional job security following the layoffs.

Three years earlier, the union voted to forgo a two-percent raise for one year while the city dealt with budget shortfalls.

The vote to forgo had been scuttled for several months, as the union feared the city’s other unions and management would balk at the idea of giving up their raises as well.

It was not until city council reassured the union that the pay freezes would be across-the-board that the union finally conceded to the pay freezes.