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Friday, November 28, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2014

EDITORIAL

Good deal

A new contract between the city and its largest union protects the interests of taxpayers and workers

Collins Collins
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins was elected last November largely on the strength of his support by local unions, public and private sector. When he took office in January, many Toledoans — including this page — were apprehensive that the grateful mayor, a former president of the city police officers’ union, would show excessive deference to all municipal unions.

But city government’s new contract with its largest union — the first full agreement negotiated by the Collins administration — adequately balances the interests of taxpayers and employees. It’s an encouraging sign.

Under the three-year agreement, the 800 or so members of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees will get modest annual raises of 1.5 percent, taking effect on Jan. 1 of each year. The typical local member earns less than $40,000 a year.

The administration previously agreed to reopen the union’s last contract to provide a 2.5 percent raise, retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. But before that, union members had accepted a two-year wage freeze and higher medical and pension costs, as the city struggled to emerge from the Great Recession.

Significantly, the new contract eliminates a provision by which taxpayers previously paid a major share of pension costs that otherwise would have been borne by employees. Such “pension pickups” mask the true cost of contract settlements to taxpayers; fortunately, they are on their way out in Toledo. The savings to the city from that item will largely offset the cost of the pay raises.

The contract also is silent on layoffs during its term. That could provide city government a needed source of flexibility if its fiscal conditions worsen unexpectedly, although Mayor Collins told The Blade’s editorial page last month: “God forbid we do layoffs.”

The mayor said the new AFSCME agreement enables the city to “define our human capital costs for the next 36 months.” Although critics called the contract’s new language on sick time overly generous, Mr. Collins said the contract gives the city greater latitude to discipline employees who violate sick-time, vacation, and attendance rules, or abuse drugs or alcohol. The agreement also gives the city greater flexibility to employ seasonal workers.

More than two-thirds of the Local 7 members who voted on the contract approved it. In a welcome change from recent years, city and union bargainers reached the new agreement before the old one expired.

The agreement with the civilian union sets useful precedents for when the administration will have to deal with more-fractious bargaining units, notably police officers and firefighters. City government’s relations with its employee unions have often been tense in recent years. It’s to be hoped that this contract will set a calmer and more conciliatory tone.



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