Warren council, unions OK pay freeze

WARREN — City Council unanimously approved contracts with three unions and a non-bargaining unit Wednesday that will cost the city no additional money.

Council approved three-year contracts with the Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association for Rank Police Officers, which has 17 members; The Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association for Police Officers, 43 members; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2501, 26 members; as well as the policies and procedures unit for non-bargaining personnel, 24 members.

AFSCME Local 2501 represents middle management employees.

The two unions that have not come up with contracts are the International Association of Firefighters Local 204 and the AFSCME Local 74.

“We are working hard to wrap those contracts up,” Mayor Doug Franklin said.

Council approved the contracts by a vote of 9-0. Councilman James Bluedorn, D-4th Ward, was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

The new three-year contracts begin Jan. 1 and continue through 2019.

City employees accepted concessionary contracts that provide no wage increases and also increase their health care premium contributions from $50 to $75 per paycheck for a family plan.

In addition, the city’s two-tier pay scale increases the amount of time employees must work before reaching parity with their co-workers to seven years.

There is no reopener in the contracts, which cover approximately 110 city workers.

“These are true three-year contracts,” Franklin said.

Negotiations between the city and the unions began about two months ago.

“Our charge was to get these contracts done prior to the November election, so I’m pleased with these results,” Franklin said.

Franklin said the contracts show that city employees understand the financial condition of the city.

“This is a great example of city employees stepping up to the plate and placing the welfare of the entire city over their personal paychecks,” Franklin said. “Even before this year, our workers have put the benefit of the city first and foremost in their minds. They have not had a significant wage increase over a three-contract period.”

While city workers did receive an annual 1 percent increase over the last three years, Franklin said the health insurance contributions agreed to in the last contract nearly wiped out the increases.

Over the next three years, the increase in premium contributions has a value of $450,000.

Franklin commended both the negotiators with the city’s human resources department and those representing the three unions  and the non-union employees.

Councilman John Brown Jr., D-3rd Ward, voted to support the contracts  because the terms within them showed good faith efforts among the negotiators “….to hold the line on spending.”

Brown said he does not know how much weight voters will place on these contracts when they are considering whether to support the 0.5-percent income tax increase that is on the November ballot.

“It is up to the individual taxpayer to determine if these contracts are enough for them to decide whether to support the income tax increase,” Brown said.

However, Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, and council’s finance chairman, said had the negotiations failed and the unions were able to negotiate wage increases  and lower health care premiums, it would have had a negative affect of the tax vote.

“It would have left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” Colbert said.

DJ Sferra, president of AFSCME Local 2501, described the acceptance of the contract “…a hard pill to swallow.”

“We took concessions on health care and basically continued the trend of not having a significant wage increase for eight years,” Sferra said.  “It was very difficult for myself and the members.”

“However, we understand the financial situation the city is in,” Sferra said. “We are for the tax proposal. We are doing what we can for the passage of it.”