By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Council approves labor contracts

Cheney employees get wage increases, but pick up more of the costs of health care

 

February 1, 2018



It’s a new year, and three of the city of Cheney’s employee unions have new contracts — including wage increases — thanks to City Council action that took place at its Jan. 30 meeting.

The council approved a new contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 77 for Light Department non-departmental supervisory employees and two American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) contracts for non-supervisor and supervisor employees. The first two contracts featured 3.5 percent wage increases over 2017 levels for non-supervisor, and 3 percent over 2017 levels for supervisors in 2018.

The IBEW contract, which runs 2018-2021, provides pay increases of 3.25 percent in 2019 and 3.5 percent in the final two years of the deal. The three-year AFSCME 270-C contract, which covers 29 non-supervisor employees, features 3 percent pay increases in 2019 and 2020, as does the AFSCME 270-S contract which is a four-year term.

City Administrator Mark Schuller told the council 2017 was an interesting year for contract negotiations given the dissolution of several medical plans the city utilized for its employees from the Association of Washington Cities. He also noted the Light Department employees compensation had been “lagging behind” compensation for similar employees in comparably-sized cities, adding the money for the pay increases was incorporated into the city’s 2018 budget.


“That was one of my goals; to keep us under budget while we negotiate these things,” Schuller said.

Schuller told the council some of the compensation was to offset employee increases in their portion of medical costs due to the city going to new plans. In an email, he said those plans were discontinued in 2017 by the AWC due to the threat of the “Cadillac tax” imposed on high-level plans by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Schuller said they selected the next best plans available, which require the employer pay 85 percent of premiums while employees now pick up 15 percent.

“The medical premium cost we share with the employee on the new plans is cheaper than the 2017 plans, “Schuller wrote. “But, the out of pocket costs for actually using the medical benefit will increase substantially with new co-pays and higher costs for service.”

Non-supervisory employee contracts also included changes in deferred compensation, essentially the employee retirement plan. Schuller said the city uses a 457 plan, similar to a 401(k) in the private sector where the city matches up to a certain amount of what the employee contributes per month.


Under the IBEW agreement, that compensation is a percentage, beginning at 2.75 percent in 2018 and increasing by a quarter of a percent each year. The AFSCME 270-C contract is a fixed amount, with the city providing a 1-to-1 match up to $120.

Schuller told the council that all of the contracts included some changes in language, the most significant being the 270-C contract where the employees ability to “cash out” unused vacation and comp time was limited to protect city finances.

City Councilman Dan Hilton questioned Schuller about how the city came up with the 3.5 percent wage increase figure. Schuller said it was derived from an annual survey of comparable-sized cities done by the AWC, with the city then determining the cost of living adjustment it can afford.

“My job is to then go out and negotiate the best for the city employees,” Schuller said. “We’re never going to be a leader in any stretch of the imagination but we want to be competitive enough to retain the employees we have.”

Schuller also said the timeframe differences between the three-year and four-year contracts was so the city wasn’t always having to negotiate all of its contracts in one year.

“I like keeping our employees current,” new Councilman Paul Schmidt said. “Otherwise, we end up with a big catch up every few years, which catches everybody’s eye.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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