Givebacks in medical benefits gave Bob Glass pause as leaders of city government’s management union began to sell a proposed five-year labor contract to a skeptical membership.
Glass (pictured), a 63-year-old middle manager at City Hall, joined a steady stream of city workers who showed up at the Metropolitan Business Academy Wednesday evening for a union meeting, maxing out the parking lot.
Their union, AFSCME Council 4 Local 3144 represents some 400 city managers (not the top mayoral appointees) at City Hall and in the school system. Wednesday marked the first of a series of informational meetings where union members heard a pitch from union leaders who struck a deal on a tentative agreement on a new contract.
“It stinks,” Glass said of the deal. “I’m saying no this year.”
Another union member, Bijan Notghi, said he “understands” the needs for givebacks, however disappointing. In “tough times,” he said, “everybody has to bear some of the cost and the suffering.” Others agreed, noting the harder toll facing workers in other industries.
Local 3144 President Cherlyn Poindexter said she signed the agreement with the city last week. The deal still needs ratification by the union rank and file as well as approval by the Board of Aldermen; Poindexter said a ratification vote has not yet been scheduled. Both the city and Poindexter declined to comment on the details of the deal at this stage.
The city did release the tentative deal Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Independent: Click here to read the tentative agreement; click here to read a union document outlining the changes.
The proposal follows a recent trend of union contracts that have helped the city dig out from mounting medical and pension costs through givebacks in pensions and health care. The pattern began with custodians, whose fate was determined by binding arbitration in 2011. Then clerical workers, teachers aides and police followed suit.
The city has been pushing hard for the concessions, taking the fire and public works unions to binding arbitration, where city officials will argue they cannot afford to maintain current benefits for municipal workers. Teachers and administrators unions’ contracts don’t expire until 2014; those unions are set to begin negotiations in the summer. City officials argue that taxpayers can’t afford the growing costs of pensions and health care under old contracts, and that the pension systems have been dangerously underfunded.
Here are some highlights of Local 3144’s tentative pact, which covers the period from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2015:
• Workers would have to enroll in one of four new health care plans, one of which is a high-deductible plan. To keep their current level of benefits, they’d have to pay higher premiums. That mimics recent changes already agreed to by other unions.
• 0 percent raises for the first two years, a 2.5 percent raise this year upon approval of the contract by aldermen; then two 2 percent raises.
• New pension benefits for special fund employees, who are hired on grants. They will be offered the chance to join a retirement plan administered by the city. The city would match a worker’s contribution of up to 3 percent of the worker’s salary. Employees would become 50 percent vested at five years and fully vested at ten years.
• Vacation givebacks: 2 weeks after 1 year; 3 weeks for 5+ years; 4 weeks for 20+ years. Employees who already reached vacation entitlement are grandfathered in.
• New disciplinary action for unexcused absences from work: 3-day suspension upon the fifth unexcused absence; termination upon the sixth.
• Employee contributions to pension plans would increase from 6 percent to 8 percent upon ratification, then to 10 percent by July 1, 2014.
• New hires and members with fewer than 10 years on the job would have to work longer to qualify for retirement: the sum of their years of service and their age would have to exceed 85 instead of 80.
Workers read through these changes in materials posted on the Local 3144 website, and distributed through email before Wednesday’s meeting. They gave mixed reviews as they entered Metro to hear their union leaders’ pitch
Ranger Wray Williams (pictured) said he was going into the meeting with concerns about health care and pension costs, but had not made up his mind about the contract.
Glass (pictured at the top of this story) had already made up his mind.
“I think the city’s misleading people saying there’s no money,” Glass said. He said too much money is spent on upper management, while “the blue-collar workers get the shaft.”
Glass is a middle manager in the city’s Commission on Equal Opportunities office. He said he’d be OK without increases in salary as long as the health care benefits stay the same. If the contract gets approved, the 63-year-old claimed, he will have to keep working to afford health care instead of retiring.
Fernando Lage (pictured), a manager in the parks department with 12 years of service to the city, said he’s not happy with rising pension contributions, or the loss of pension benefits for new hires. He said he was hired with the expectation of certain benefits. “I would expect the city to uphold” those benefits.
“It sucks,” agreed Notghi, an engineer in the city’s traffic department. “I’m not happy,” he said—“but I understand.”
“I’m sure we all feel we are the victims,” he said, but the city is in a tough position, too.
Lillie Carmon (pictured) of the city tax office said she is “not happy” about the rising health care costs but she will probably vote yes on the overall deal.
An older worker, who declined to give his name, called the tentative contract a good deal given the circumstances.
“We’re taking a loss,” he said, with rising health care costs. But “in today’s economy,” he said, it could be worse.
“I have a lot of friends out there,” in fields like construction, who are “suffering” from scenarios worse than what the contract would bring.