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Published: Thursday, 12/18/2008

Union refuses city's 'last, best' contract offer

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Czerniak Czerniak
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

More than 800 city of Toledo workers rejected a new, three-year contract offer yesterday that would have frozen salaries for the first two years and raised premium costs for hospitalization and prescription drugs.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7, which had been presented on Oct. 28 with a "last and best offer" by the Finkbeiner administration, shot down the proposed contract with 78 percent of the members voting no, union president Don Czerniak said.

The vote gives union leaders the authorization to issue a 10-day strike notice, Mr. Czerniak said.

"We in no way want a strike and we could still sit down with the city and hash out the issues," Mr. Czerniak said.

He said the union members were willing to make concessions but wanted guarantees there would be no more layoffs - something the Finkbeiner administration would not promise.

"We also want to be involved in how the money is being spent," Mr. Czerniak said.

The agreement would have frozen salaries for two years and increased pay 2 percent in the third year. The city's three-year proposal asked Local 7 members to pay a monthly medical co-payment of $25 for single members, $40 for a single plus one person, and $55 for a family.

Robert Reinbolt, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's chief of staff, last month said the administration could impose the contract with Toledo City Council's approval even with the no vote.

"There is no money out there, so they're not going to get anything more than that," Mr. Reinbolt said.

The city had been locked in contentious negotiations with AFSCME Local 7 since its contract expired June 30. The union and the city held 11 full negotia-tion sessions and one mediation meeting. After reaching a deadlock, the union was required to bring the proposal to its members for a vote.

The parties were unable to agree on wages, hospitalization and prescription drugs, and a "reverse me-too clause."

Mayor Finkbeiner in a statement last night said he was deeply disappointed with the vote results. "This tough economic time demands sacrifice and compromise from everyone fortunate enough to still have a job," the mayor said. "The men and women of AFSCME Local 7 serve the city admirably, but I am deeply disappointed that they were unwilling to agree to these concessions, which we feel were modest."

Mr. Finkbeiner has requested the city's unions accept a 3 percent temporary rollback of their pension plans.

That would save the city about $3 million in the general fund, once implemented across all bargaining units, Mr. Finkbeiner said in a letter to all unions. The 3 percent contribution reduction by the city then would be picked up directly by the employee.

Mr. Reinbolt said none of the unions has committed to the move, but none has flatly rejected it. "We are paying $26 million, our share of the pension cost, but we are also paying an additional $14 million, which is the employees' share," he said. "We are asking the unions to give some consideration to this to avoid more layoffs."

Mayor Finkbeiner said last week that 45 city workers likely will get layoff notices for 2009.

He said most of those notices could be averted if city unions agree to concessions.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the layoffs are necessary to close the final $3 million gap between revenues and expenditures for next year.

Mr. Reinbolt said the 2009 proposed budget does not allow for employee pay raises. The city had to slash $21 million in spending for 2009 - putting some basic services on the chopping block and canceling plans to hire new police officers and firefighters.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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