The Derry Town Council voted unanimously to approve a new contract for Teamsters Local #633, a group of Public Works employees, with even fiscal conservatives calling the contract fair.
The contract was not without its share of dissenters at the June 4 meeting, but the Council still approved it, with an eye to more public input on contracts in the future.
Larry Budreau, human services director for the Town of Derry, presented the contract. Budreau said the union and the town had been in extensive negotiations and that the contract, if approved, would run from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016.
Budreau wrote in a memo that the union represents employees in Buildings and Grounds, Highway, Parks, Transfer Station, Vehicle Maintenance, Water and Wastewater, and that they arrived at a tentative agreement April 12.
Budreau wrote that the union’s approach at the bargaining table was one of “collaboration and recognition of the economic realities imposed on the town by the tax cap, 2012’s modest CPI (Consumer Price Index) of 2.1 percent and the dramatic 22 percent increase in FY 14 New Hampshire Retirement System contributions.”
Budreau said the proposed contract represented nearly 50 changes over the current contract. Highlights of the contract include general wage increases of 1.5 percent, FY 2014; 1.25 percent, 2015; and 1.5 percent, 2016, and a 1 percent increase on the final day of the contract.
One of the concessions, Budreau said, was elimination of the Sick Leave Pool.
The negotiators for the union also agreed to increase the employee contribution toward health insurance premiums, from the current 3.8 percent to 10 percent, July 2013; 12 percent, July 2014; and 14 percent, July 2015.
The obligation to provide fully paid health insurance for up to four years in the event of disability would change to 3 1/2 years. A proposed “signing bonus” for people taking the town’s health insurance brought questions from residents. The proposed contract would call for a $586 signing bonus for a single employee, a $1,230 signing bonus for those in a two-person plan, and a $1,465 bonus for those in a family plan. Budreau wrote in the memo that the signing bonuses were intended to partially mitigate the increases in the employee contributions.
In the public hearing portion of the meeting, resident Mike Gill objected to the signing bonuses. He has been a business owner, he said, and “I never gave my employees a signing bonus. Why is the town offering this?” Gill also objected to the 10 to 14 percent employee contribution. “Employees for other companies pick up 20, 30, 40, even 50 percent of their health care,” he said. “Why are my tax dollars being used for this?”
Resident Kevin Coyle said he had read the entire contract, and noted some positive things, such as eliminating the sick pool policy. “But my bigger concern,” he said, “is giving raises to people who make above the average in the state.” Coyle, a County Commissioner, said the county is currently negotiating with a similar union whose members do not earn as much as the Derry employees make.
“Approving this contract,” Coyle said, “will push us up against the tax cap.” But, he added, it’s the “least egregious” town contract he has seen. “They seem to recognize our fiscal constraints,” Lynn Perkins said of the Teamsters. But he expressed concern about the bonuses, and suggested they be paid out in the third year of the contract. “I hope we’re doing better by then,” he said of the economy.
After the public hearing closed, Councilor Mark Osborne asked Budreau if the town is saving money with this contract. “We’re dead even if we go with this contract,” Budreau replied. The Council discussed giving the public more input on contracts. Councilor Neil Wetherbee said, “We should have the discussion with the public before beginning collective bargaining.”
Budreau didn’t think it was necessary, pointing out the Council is a representative form of government, elected to represent their constituents. But if they did want more public input it should be done at the beginning, he said. To bring in the public after the contract is already negotiated is “difficult for all parties,” he said.
“If you want to front-load it, that’s fairer to me and the management,” he said.
Budreau said with the increased employee health contributions, the union members are seeing a net pay decrease, and that was part of the reason for the signing bonuses. The money is already set aside in a fund for union contract settlements and would have no tax impact, he said.
The members of the union are skilled workers, he added, with most of them having CDLs (Commercial Driver’s License). Coyle is correct that the Derry DPW workers are well-paid, Budreau said. He and Director Mike Fowler did an analysis of departments around the state. But increasing the employee contribution and eliminating the sick pool will bring their pay down, he added.
Budreau defended the union and its negotiators. He’s been in the business a long time, he said, and has heard many union reps declare, “I will never walk away with less.” “But this group,” he said, “has done it.”
Councilor Mark Osborne, who ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism, said, “I have never projected the image of being a spendthrift. The previous Council gave Mr. Budreau guidelines, and I think he followed the guidelines given him.”
The Council voted 7-0 to approve the contract.