By Alice Gerard
The Grand Island Town Board voted 5-0 to approve tentative collective bargaining agreements with the Teamsters; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and with the Civil Service Employees Association. The new contracts will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
All full-time members of the three collective bargaining units will receive annual pay raises for the four years of the life of the contract. In the first year, the pay raise will be 6%. In the second year, the pay raise will be 5%, and for the third and fourth years, the pay raise will be 3%.
According to Town Supervising Accountant Pam Barton, only one of the three was set to expire this year. CSEA’s four-year contract expires Dec. 31, while the AFSCME and Teamsters five-year contracts are scheduled to expire a year later, on Dec. 31, 2023.
CSEA is the white-collar union that represents town hall employees and working crew chiefs. AFSCME represents most of the blue-collar workers in the highway, sewer and water departments. This would include plant operators, snowplow drivers, and people who fix water line breaks. The Teamsters union represents the maintenance workers in the town’s Parks Department. The collective bargaining agreements cover all full-time union members, Barton said.
Contract negotiations with CSEA began in July. Because of scheduling difficulties – and because several of the representatives in the talks contracted COVID-19 – “things got delayed,” Barton said. “There was no animosity, nobody digging in on issues or anything. The issues were fairly clear. Both sides were pretty amenable right from the start.
“I’ve been here 22 years. There’s never been an impasse or arbitration in my years. I don’t think there were before I was here, either. They usually go fairly well. This was no exception.
“Most of the negotiation was based around raises. For the last 10 years, wages have fallen behind. I think both sides saw that.”
In 2012, Barton explained, a contract was negotiated that provided for flat pay increases of 24 and 25 cents per hour, as opposed to a percentage increase. “So, for someone who’s making $24 an hour, 24 cents is 1%. Some people didn’t even get 1% (increase) in those years,” Barton said.
The contract that began in 2014 and expired in 2018 tied pay increases to health insurance premiums. “If the health insurance premium stayed at a 10% increase or lower, employees received a 2% annual raise. If they exceeded 10%, employees would be receiving a 1.75% raise.
“We have an excellent health insurance plan, and the increases have not been out of hand,” Barton said. “In one of those years, the insurance went over 10%. They got a 1.75% raise.”
The contract that went into effect in 2019 and is expiring at the end of this month also tied wage increases to health insurance premiums. But the way that the increases were given to employees was different.
“Those increases were similar: 1.75 or 2% being tied to health insurance increases,” Barton said. “But they also were split, so 1% was in January and 1% was in July. Not 2%. When you’re getting 1% in January and 1% in July, you’re not getting 2%. So, if you’re making $20 an hour and you get a 20-cent increase in January, and, then in July, your $20.20 is multiplied by 1%. And now, you’ll make $20.40. Whereas, if you got 2% in January, you’d get the whole $20.40 in January.
“Part of the reason for the split is that, at the same time, employees in those years, starting in 2019, got a little better deal on health insurance. The town contributed more than they had been contributing.”
That split in pay increase also applied to employees represented by AFSCME and the Teamsters. The only difference was the length of the contract.
“Then came the dilemma that we had two other units that had one more year, and we now know that they are in a 2% split, with 1% in January and 1% in July,” Barton said. “We’re only going to have to go through all of this in a year.”
The decision was made to negotiate a pay increase for AFSCME and the Teamsters, as well as CSEA. At the town attorney’s suggestion and with the agreement of the Town Board, the contracts with these two unions were opened.
“What management was attempting to do was to be fair to all the employees and open those up and get a four-year deal with them,” Barton said. “So now that was successful. I think we met only once with Teamsters and once with AFSCME, too. This new contract supersedes the old contract. It basically eliminates the fifth year of the contract they were in, and now, there’s a new contract in place, starting Jan. 1, 2023. We now have all three (unions) back with the same cycle.”
Although the collective bargaining agreements apply only to full-time employees who are members of the three collective bargaining units, part-time employees and nonunion employees will benefit, as well, Barton said. This includes people who are appointed to their positions, such as the employees in the town clerk’s office, as well as part-time employees.
“The year-round part-time employees are on the nonunion schedule. And that schedule, as well, will enjoy the 6-5-3-3 (pay increases) over the next four years,” Barton said.
In addition to the contracts, the Town Board also approved memorandums of understanding concerning titles that were being changed or added in the CSEA contract, Barton said. One of those changed titles was in the Recreation Department, with the rest being in the town’s Zoning Department.