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7.5 percent raises coming for 450 city employees

The Journal Star is reporting that the CIR rulling I wrote about earlier today will pave the way for a contract to be signed with a city employee union that will include 7.5 percent raises for that employee group.

The labor union is called the Public Association of Government Employees, or more commonly known as PAGE, and it represents more than 450 clerical, technical and blue-collar employees. So a nice raise is apparently on the way for those 450 employees, compliments of the state system of setting salaries — which requires the city to pay salaries that are commensurate with those employees’ peers in other comparable sized cities, regardless of the city’s financial health.

Now that the CIR has ruled on some issues PAGE had brought to them, I suppose the union and city can settle their labor agreement — and I believe Nancy HIcks is right, I’d heard that agreement called for like 8 percent raises (7.5 percent rounded up).

This is an example of the problem many people have with Nebraska’s salary-setting system: The city has a projected $6.3 million budget shortfall (plus $1.8 million we’re about to lose in state aid) and that’s not counting raises that will need to be given to most city employees — and yet the system doesn’t allow flexibility during hard times. Thus, the whole CIR debate in the Legislature.

Nancy’s story indicates the “compromise bill” that appears to be coming out of committee in the Legislature would require the CIR to also take into account retirement and health insurance benefits when deciding cases. I’m not sure that will solve this problem.


CIR rules in favor of city

The Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations has ruled in the case a Lincoln city employee union brought over benefits.

The union is the Public Association of Government Employees, or PAGE, which represents about 500 city employees, most of them blue collar and technical workers. Although they originally went to the CIR over the mayor’s pressure on them to lower retirement benefits for new employees, ultimately that issue did not go before the CIR.

The union’s attorney, Gary Young, told me in January that city officials realized they couldn’t force the union to agree to the lower retirement benefit via the CIR.

“If you’re the 800-pound gorilla and you can force people to do things because a union doesn’t want to go to the CIR, then you can bully your way into doing things that you’re not entitled to. PAGE wasn’t going to allow the mayor to bully them,” Young said of the Beutler administration back in . “There’s nothing they (the other unions) can do about it now.”

The CIR took up three issues: dental benefits, who decides when overtime begins in the pay cycle and whether the city should offer employees a defined benefit pension plan, rather than just the defined contribution plan.

The CIR ruled in the city’s favor on all three counts:

• The CIR ruled that dental benefits should stay the same (meaning the city will continue to provide employer-paid dental insurance at its current rate of 50 percent for family and single coverage).

• The CIR ruled in the city’s favor on the defined benefit issue, saying the issue extends beyond the reach of the one-year period over which the CIR has jurisdiction, saying, “the Commission lacks jurisdiction to order structural changes to pension plans.”

• The CIR ruled that overtime is a “management prerogative” and said it lacks jurisdiction to change the city’s method of calculating when overtime begins during a work cycle.

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