One city employee union — the second largest in the city — is still hanging out there working without a contract since last fall while resisting the mayor’s insistence that they agree to a less generous retirement match for new hires.
Public pressure led Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration to convince all but one union to agree to a 1-to-1 retirement match for new employees, while existing employees will keep their 2-to-1 match that irritated some during the Great Recession.
But this union — mostly comprised of blue collar and technical workers – is the only one that refused to bow to Beutler’s demand, and yesterday they went before the state Commission of Industrial Relations to settle three issues. Surprisingly, the retirement benefit wasn’t one of them.
The union’s attorney, Gary Young, said that’s because city officials realized long ago they couldn’t force the union to agree to the lower retirement benefit via the CIR. Young said Beutler would not bend on that retirement issue – and all the other city unions eventually gave in to the demand, except the Public Association of Government Employees, or PAGE, which represents about 500 city employees.
“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. “There’s nothing they (the other unions) can do about it now.”
Beutler was responding to public outcry over the fact the city contributes up to 12 percent of employees’ salaries (matching 6 percent by the employee) toward their retirement – however, the city can’t change that benefit for existing employees unless the unions agree.
So even after the CIR rules on the three issues that were before it on Tuesday (over dental benefits, who decides when overtime begins in the pay cycle and whether the city should have to offer a defined benefit pension since it’s prevalent in other comparable cities), the retirement issue remains unresolved.
“If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to do it at the negotiation table,” Young said.
Wonder if any of the other unions are wishing they’d taken a firmer stance on the issue?