NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 23, 2013

City workers agree to settle contracts

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — City officials have reached agreement on contracts with five union bargaining units, and these pacts have gone to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, which is scheduled to meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the matter.

The unions represent 187 city workers.

Two unions representing department heads and a variety of city workers in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees agreed to a three-year deal granting 2 percent raises effective Jan. 1, an increase July 1 of 1.5 percent and another increase in July 2014 of 1.5 percent.

Three unions — representing administrative assistants, police superiors and firefighters — agreed to settle “wage reopener” agreements in their current contracts. The administrative assistants agreed to a 1.5 percent increase, and the others to 2 percent, all effective Jan. 1 of this year.

As a result of new figures, Mayor Donna Holaday has asked councilors to transfer $132,393 “to cover cost of living allowances, step increases, overtime impacts and grade adjustments that have resulted from the agreed-upon terms of this negotiation progress.”

The request to fund these wage changes is viewed as a routine administrative function, city officials say.

In a recent message to city councilors, Holaday said, “It is important to note that city employees received a 2 percent in cumulative cost-of-living-allowances (COLA) over the past three fiscal years (Fiscal years 2010-2012).

“During the same period of time, Newburyport school employees have received 5 percent in COLA increases. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, the cost of living for this region increased 4.5 percent over this time frame.”

Municipal leaders say the city has six unions (of full-time workers). Five of the six union contracts required “wage considerations” for the current fiscal year.

The police patrolmen union has a three-year contract that expires June 30, 2014. It calls for a 1 percent COLA for FY13 that was effective July 1, 2012.

All COLAs agreed to as part of these negotiations are effective Jan 1, 2013, “which cuts the cost impacts of these increases in this fiscal year by half of what they would be if they were retro back to July 1,” city officials said.

The city has 259 total non-school employees, including parking attendants, as well as other employees who are exempt from these raises for various reasons (contract, seasonal, hourly and other functions).

The size of some of the major departments are as follows: fire department, 36; highway department, 25; water department, 24; sewer department, 23; library, 20; and police department, 14. The mayor’s office has three employees.

Total personnel services for FY13 (including enterprise funds) on the city side (non-school) was budgeted at: $24,961,116. This includes all personnel costs (salary, overtime, reimbursements, stipends, retirement, workman’s comp, health insurance, unemployment, etc), according to city officials.

In her message to the City Council, Holaday indicated that her office had endeavored to look closely at every expense.

In the agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCMW), for instance, the education stipend was eliminated for all new employees. Language on sick leave was strengthened to address “sick leave abuse.”

Also, new guidelines state that five less vacation days will be part of the contracts of all new employees.

But a step was added for all employees with more than 10 years with the city and a change in minimum hours paid for weekend/holiday emergency calls was increased from three to four hours.

The AFSCME union includes employees in the highway, water and sewer departments, librarians, City Hall administrative staff, custodians, police administrative staff and police-fire dispatchers.

Positions of the veterans affairs director ($5,329) and the harbormaster ($5,000) were upgraded to reflect “an evaluation of job requirements and a salary survey for these positions in comparable communities.”