The city of Princeton recently approved a new union contract for our firefighters/EMS employees. This was done several months prior to their current contract expiring in April.
The new contract passed 4-1. Ray Mabry, the commissioner who voted against it, did so, primarily, because he didn’t know the contract was being negotiated, and he didn’t understand why it was being done now. He suggested we table approving this contract for 90 days, until after our new city manager is on board.
I want to clarify for residents why this was done now; due to comments/concerns I have heard this past weekend regarding these concerns.
Our city manager’s job description includes negotiating union contracts. The city manager is not required or expected to let the council know when that is occurring. It is unreasonable to expect a city manager to let commissioners know of every project they work on, regardless of importance.
That said, communication is a two-way street. Commissioners were asked to make monthly appointments with our city manager for the purpose of getting one-on-one updates. Only one commissioner that I know of does this, and not surprisingly, he’s the best-educated commissioner we have regarding city business.
As for the contract, it was not rushed through as has been stated. This took weeks to negotiate. It was a successful negotiation; fair to both sides. The city manager provided a copy of the contract to the council days before our meeting, as is always the case with this or any other city issue.
In this instance, had negotiations failed, the city manager would not have provided a contact to the council to consider, as there would have been no contract to consider.
Had this contract been tabled, as was suggested at Monday’s (Nov. 4) meeting by the dissenting commissioner, so our new city manager could negotiate the contract instead, it would have been detrimental to taxpayers.
Our new city manager, once hired, will not start with the city until after the first of the year. We’ll be in budget talks then, and we will be moving forward with our street plans. Add to this, a new city manager will be getting up to speed on all city business, meeting new people, getting situated in town and everything else associated with moving to a new town and job.
Being told, then, that a union contract needs to be negotiated by the middle of March so the budget can be approved is, in my opinion, a bit much. The new city manager will not know the players, the union reps, the issues, prior negotiations and yet somehow be expected to come up with something better than what was recently negotiated.
Our current contract, (negotiated five years ago during the prior administration), included cost of living (COL) increases over five years, totaling 14 percent. It also pays longevity, based on gross pay, which includes overtime. The city also contributes $500 to $750 per employee, per year, to their Health Savings Account (HSA).
This new contract, in question, was negotiated as follows:
1) COL increases totaling 10.5 percent over the next five years. That’s a significant savings to taxpayers.
2) Longevity pay, in this new contract, will be based on base pay, which does not include overtime; a significant savings to taxpayers.
3) And we no longer make contributions to HSA; a significant savings to taxpayers.
What would have happen had the request to table the contract for 90 days been voted on and passed? For starters, the possible filing of unfair labor practices against the city for backing out of a contract that was negotiated in good faith. Again, we never would have seen the contract if a fair agreement had not been reached, in good faith.
Also, if we would have tabled the contract for a new city manager to negotiate, which is what would have happened, you have to wonder if the union would agree to the 10.5 percent COL increase that was recently negotiated.
Aside from the other significant savings, is a 10.5 percent COL increase over five years fair?
1) Our current contract pays 14 percent over five years.
2) Mendota schools went on strike recently over their new union contract. When it was settled, they agreed to a three-year contract paying them COL increases totaling 12.5 percent.
3) Compare 12.5 percent COL over three years in Mendota verses 10.5 percent COL over five years here in Princeton.
So yes, I think our new contract is very fair. Rachel Skaggs’ knowledge of the issues helped make it so.
Rachel is to be commended for her work on this contract. She did an outstanding job getting this done. The union is to be commended as well. The end result is a contract that is fair to both sides.