City council in stalemate over union deals

Published 9:34 am Friday, January 25, 2013

A push to end the nearly year-long negotiations with two of the city’s unions that continue to operate with layoffs in place ended in a stalemate Thursday night as the Ironton City Council was divided over the proposals.

New contracts that would have kept the status quo for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 771 and the Fraternal Order of Police — both which have been in negotiations since January and April of 2012, respectively — were brought to the city council for a vote, but an even split between those for and against the terms of the contracts means the issue remains unresolved.

Neither the AFSCME nor FOP contracts included any changes from the current contracts in terms of wages or the employees’ share of benefits.

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AFSCME is currently operating without a contract. The police union is under contract with a clause that allows the union to negotiate salaries and benefits.

The AFSCME contract was proposed for the contract year February 2012 through April 1, 2014. The FOP contract year was for April 2012 through March 31, 2014, with 2013 as a wage re-opener year.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Rich Blankenship asked council to move the process along.

“Vote on it and let me know where to go from here,” he said.

Blankenship and Ironton attorney Mark McCown have been handling negotiations and had previously presented to the finance committee the plan that would have essentially extended the current contracts. Committee members Kevin Waldo and Mike Lutz sponsored both contract proposals. Waldo made motions to suspend the standard rules in order to have all three readings of the ordinances in one night and put them up for a vote.

Council members Waldo, Lutz and Butch Huff, who was recently appointed to fill the vacancy left by Bob Cleary’s retirement, voted in favor of the contracts. Aaron Bollinger, Philip Heald and Dave Frazer voted against the new contracts. Councilwoman Beth Rist was absent.

“Can we have some discussion for those who might not favor this ordinance?” Huff asked.

Bollinger, also a finance committee member, spoke out, saying it was too soon to agree on the unions’ terms in light of ongoing budget discussions.

“Some of the decisions we are making right now in this budget are critical and go hand in hand with the agreements we make with these unions,” Bollinger said. “And so I feel, at this time, it’s too early to do that.”

“That’s the way I feel about it, too,” Heald said, with Frazer also expressing the same sentiment.

After the meeting, Blankenship outlined three possible scenarios on where the city goes from here in terms of the union contracts.

“First is to sit back down at the table with the unions and see if there would be any changes they would be willing to make and bring it back to council,” he said.

A second option, if council cannot pass the contract ordinances, is mediation and fact-finding, which would cost the city “several thousand dollars,” Blankenship said.

A third option would be to get finance committee members to sponsor the ordinances again and put the contracts back on the agenda for another vote in two weeks.

If all members of council were present, there would be a true deciding vote on whether or not the contracts pass or fail.

“If someone will sponsor it, we’ll see where the vote really falls,” Blankenship said.

Union contract negotiations have been a key issue for nearly a year.

The city reduced its workforce in 2012 including cutting six employees from public works — one each from the street department, sanitation, wastewater, income tax and water distribution — and five from the police/dispatching department.

The layoffs came after council adopted a budget that required all city employees to begin paying 7.5 percent of their retirement pickup.

The firefighters union agreed to pay 3 percent of their retirement and made cuts to each firefighter’s uniform and food allowance to make up the difference.

Instead of taking the increase, the other two unions laid off employees to reflect a 7.5 percent cut from their budgets. AFSCME and police union employees currently do not pay anything towards their retirement pickup, with the city covering the entire 10 percent as well as the standard 14 percent employer share.

The city’s 19 non-union workers are currently paying the 7.5 percent of their retirement pickup.

The employee share of health insurance has also been a sticking point in negotiations and budget talks. Currently, the city pays 95 percent of insurance premiums and employees contribute 5 percent.

For an employee on the family insurance plan, the city contributes about $1,333 a month with that individual paying about $70 per month. For employees on the single plan, they contribute about $31 per month with the city picking up about $597 per employee each month.

The current enrollment has 67 family plans and 16 single plans.