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January 14, 2011


State can freeze employees’ salaries, but city can’t?

by Deena Winter

I’m reading about the governor’s proposed budget today, and I’m trying to figure out how he can get by with proposing a salary freeze the first year of the budget, and 2 percent the second year — while Lincoln’s city officials say they had no choice but to give firefighters up to 10 percent raises this year or face losing at a state arbitration board.
Gov. Dave Heineman seems to get by with the slimmest of raises for state employees — and they’re governed by the same laws that govern city employees and all public employees. Sometimes the state employee unions put up a fight, but they don’t seem to get much traction.
Meanwhile, the city of Lincoln is handing out double-digit-raises (to firefighters alone) and claiming they have to — because the Commission of Industrial Relations will force them to if firefighters appeal. Can somebody explain this to me? Maybe I’m missing something.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dave Fall
    Jan 14 2011

    I believe all City and County Employee’s negotiate contracts.

  2. Jane H Kinsey
    Jan 14 2011

    I will ask the City Council members. They always claim the State laws are against them. Let’s see if they have another answer.

  3. The Price Is Right
    Jan 14 2011

    It deos seem confusing at first. There are five (?) individual unions (bagaining units) with the city. Each union has organized based upon the type of worker classification (firefighter, police, manager, maintenence etc.) Each of these bargaining units assess their benefits, wages and working conditions seperately. They regularly review labor contracts from other comparable cities in the bargaining array, set by the CIR. If a bargaining unit feels its labor contract is substantially off it can appeal to the CIR. Only the city Firefighters union leaders chose to appeal.
    NAPE/AFSCME represents all state employees. They have never appealed to the CIR. In general, the salaried union leaders are circumspect regarding proactive advocacy fror their membersm and prefer accomodation with management – a traditional kind of gentlemen’s agreement as a bargaining strategy. It is what it is nowadays.

    • Gene
      Jan 14 2011

      You mean there are reasonable explanations that don’t reek of scandal? ::shock::

  4. Jan 15 2011

    The Price is Right — I understand the whole CIR process… what I’m asking is why the state can get state employees to agree to pay freezes, but the city cannot get its firefighters to? You’re saying the state union is just weaker and more amenable to working with the governor?

  5. The Price Is Right
    Jan 15 2011

    Deena – Very insightful question.
    When negotiating with multiple bargaining units (unions) it appears that they communicate/strategize with one another. Like this year lets go for a range of salary increase from 1.75% to 2%. One union asks for a laundry allowance another for a sick leave bank, another for retirement/401K language provisions etc.
    The city and the unions both follow the CIR and other states in the bargaining array. There is a lot of exchange communication going on. Going to the CIR is tantamount to saying we could not work it out ourselves. Or a legitimate bargaining ploy.

    The state union is larger than the city. They must evaluate whether this is the year to go for it, or keep folks employed and wait for better times. The state contract with more employees has a higher price tag so they hold the horses (literally) in the collective bargaining derby. And they are affiliated with the national labor orgs. Lots of moving parts. Many partners and many varaialbes to consider. Parties do seek mutual gains in an imperfect world.
    Tthe City Personnel folks made a recommendation to the Mayor. The Mayor’s aide(s) deliberated gave a plum to, parties who were also Big Donors. The story is in how the award decision was made. Nobody can ever prove collusion, it may look gamed but Public collective bargaining is a complex, many splendored thing and will continue to be so, CIR or not.
    If you follow the negotitiations scorecard, NAPE/AFSCME rejected the Governor’s request to accept little or nothing.

    This will reulst in some layoffs to their bread and butter membership. And the City did what they did. Its like Mom you love my sibling better.Seemingly similar and involving same processes yet distinctly differing situations. Sorry to be so unclear.

  6. Jane H Kinsey
    Jan 17 2011

    I e-mailed the City Council members with the question and posed that campaign donations have something to do with it.
    John Spatz says he voted against the raises and that the two entities have different laws/ways of approaching the raise issues.
    Doug Emery hinted at the same statement but said he would find out more and let me know. He didn’t say how he voted but as I remember all the Democrats voted for the firefighter raises.
    Both did not respond as to what each one planned to do about the CIR legislation. I will wait to see what the other Council members say.

  7. Jane H Kinsey
    Jan 17 2011

    John Spatz reported that he is working many hours a week with the Legislature , I.E. Tony Fulton, to get legislation to diminish or end CIR control over city raises and the formula it uses to issue its mediation reports. He further said for us to watch the legislative bills that will be introduced over the next few weeks about this. Hopefully, LJS will keep us informed. We could attend public hearings to speak for the changes.

  8. Jane H Kinsey
    Jan 20 2011

    This is what Rick Hoppe, Mayor’s Aide, sent to me in explanation for the difference in state and city salaries.
    “Governor Heineman froze salaries for non union employees. ……………state employee unions agreed to freeze their salaries for the first yea of a two year contract. State Troopers and the State are headed to a “special master” for a decision on their wages…………. ……………..employee unions must agree to any wage freeze. Otherwise the employer has altered wages without negotiation, an unlawful practice.

    …………………..In Lincoln, we are currently at the CIR with the PAGE union over a proposed lower retirement match and other issues.
    In the case of the Lincoln firefighters, they did agree to a comparability increase of 0% for the ’09-10 budget year. …………….That is why the firefighters are due for 10% to 15% comparability increases for the ’10-’11 budget year. The City was able to negotiate an average 6% comparability raise instead.

    Non-represented employees account for only 5% of the City workforce. For those employees whom the Mayor has direct control, we have frozen salaries. For the ’09-’10 budget, directors were given 0%.”

    In addition, Mr. Hoppe challenged me to find where the Mayor has made any public statement or threat to raise property taxes. A local blogger made that statement and took it down when he asked for a similar challenge.

    Does anyone know if this e-mail is political doublespeak or is it for real?

  9. Jan 21 2011

    I believe all of that is true — but Rick didn’t address the meat of the question: How is it the governor can get the state unions to accept 0% the first year 2% the second — does comparability show that’s all they’re owed? — while the mayor cannot get the fire union to accept less than the 6% + a new longevity bonus that will push some over 10% this year? He didn’t hit that question head on. And BTW, what are directors getting for raises in the 10-11 budget?
    And what does the challenge about property taxes have to do with your question? A lot of obfuscation there, if you ask me.


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