Thursday, May 24, 2018
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City union deal forces members to pay more

Toledo City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a three-year agreement that would increase health-care and pension costs for almost 800 city workers and freeze their wages for the next two years.

The tentative agreement, negotiated by the Bell administration and the city's largest employee union, AFSCME Local 7, would save the deficit-weary city about $3 million in pension and health-care expenses between now and the end of the contract, June 30, 2014. While slightly more favorable for the union workers, the terms of the new agreement still resemble the ones laid out in the fact finder's report.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the savings would help the city balance its budget, prevent layoffs, and maintain essential services at a time of economic duress. If approved, the terms probably will set the standard for upcoming contract negotiations with other city unions, including firefighters, police, and communications operators.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction," Mr. Herwat said Monday. "Is it as good a deal as we could have gotten? No. But that's the idea of negotiations."

The contract, if approved, would be retroactive to June 1. Most Local 7 members are service workers whose jobs range from waterline mechanic to tree trimmer. The members are to vote on the agreement Wednesday afternoon. Steve Kowalik, an AFSCME representative, said he would not comment on the contract until after the vote.

Local 7 leaders and city officials reached the agreement Sept. 30 after the two sides returned to the bargaining table on orders from city council.

Before the talks, the Bell administration had tried to impose concessions on Local 7 despite overwhelming objections from its members. Those original concessions closely followed recommendations made by an independent fact finder in August.

According to terms of the new agreement, medical-coverage premiums would rise even higher than the 12.5 percent to 15 percent range -- based on salary -- initially proposed by the fact finder.

Under the new agreement, Local 7 members who now pay between $25 and $55 a month for medical coverage -- depending on whether they have a single, single plus one, or family plan -- would pay between $94 and $166 a month by 2014. That translates to between 15 and 21 percent of their medical-coverage premium contribution, as calculated by the city. Workers' emergency room co-pays would also increase to $100 from $65.

Deputy Mayor Herwat said the changes in medical-coverage contributions would save the city about $400,000 over the three-year contract.

Meanwhile, employees who currently pay nothing toward their pensions would have to pick up 7 percent by 2013, equivalent to about $2,575 a year for the average worker, Mr. Herwat said. That's the same recommendation made in the fact finder's report.

However, in the new agreement the city would temper that dent in worker take-home pay with a yearly $750 check to each employee for all three years of the contract. Altogether, the change would save the city close to $3 million over the life of the contract, according to figures provided by the city.

The pension terms do not apply to employees hired after Jan. 1, 2009, who already pay 10 percent of their pension costs.

Local 7 members, who are paid an average $38,000 annually, also would have their pay frozen for the next two years. The union could then renegotiate with the city over wages in 2014. The Bell administration had sought to make that wage reopener contingent on certain economic factors, but the new agreement removes that condition.

In all, the new agreement's health and pension provisions are not far off terms that would be imposed on all public-sector employees if a controversial law known as Senate Bill 5 is upheld at the ballot box. That law requires government employees to pay at least 15 percent of their medical-coverage premiums and 10 percent of their pension costs.

It also limits the collective bargaining power of public sector unions, something opponents said was unnecessary.

Ohioans will vote Nov. 8 whether to repeal the law, which is on the ballot as Issue 2.

Some councilmen Monday applauded the city and Local 7 leaders for coming to an agreement.

"There's been movement on both sides and that's what collective bargaining is about," Rob Ludeman said, adding that he plans to vote in favor of the agreement Tuesday. "It's the best for the city and taxpayers, as well as the employees."

However, while supportive of the agreement, Councilmen D. Michael Collins and Tom Waniewski said they would have preferred it if council's vote were scheduled after that of the union members.

Local 7 did hold a vote last week, but the union voided the results because of an error in the ballot count.

"I think the administration should have waited until after [the Local 7] vote," Mr. Collins said. "But I am prepared to vote on it and I am prepared to vote yes."

If Local 7 members do reject the agreement, the city probably would seek to impose it.

"The mayor's indicated we're not going to go back to the bargaining table," Mr. Herwat said.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett or 419-724-6272.

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