UPDATE | Agreement between city, union postponed until new city manager arrives

It's been a long wait for negotiations to wrap up on a new contract between the city of Bainbridge Island and one of its employees' union.

Now, they will have to wait even longer.

The city council was primed to consider the approval of a contract between the city and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District Lodge 160 at its last meeting. But Councilman Steve Bonkowski felt that with the arrival of new city manager Doug Schulze fast approaching, the council might as well wait for his input.

Bonkowski asked to table talk of the three-year contract at the council's meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 17 until the new city manager can look it over.

The council voted to postpone further discussions on the agreement until Schulze begins his work at the city on Nov. 5.

The proposed agreement took nearly a year to complete and was delayed due to changes at city hall. But in the end, an agreement was reached.

"We don't think it's a great contract, but we think it's fair," Paul Miller of District Lodge 160 said last week.

"Morgan Smith was great to deal with," Miller noted of the interim city manager. "She really helped to bridge the gap between labor and the city that was left in the wake of (former city manager Brenda) Bauer."

The union contract will cover 63 employees, including planners, court clerks, public works crews and others.

The agreement between the city and the machinist union spans the time period from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2014.

During the life of the contract, city employees will pay more for their health insurance premiums. In the first year of the agreement, the city will cover 100 percent of staff health insurance premiums, and 90 percent of spouses' in 2012. Starting in 2013, however, employees will pay 5 percent of their own premiums and 15 percent of the premiums of their spouses or significant others.

The city will pay 100 percent of the costs for dental and vision health coverage for employees and their families.

Regular salaries will also be modified by the new contract. City employees will receive a pay raise of 1.5 percent that will be retroactive to July 1, 2012.

While the union is satisfied with the raises, they initially tried for more.

"That's our open spot," Miller said. "We would have liked to have seen that go back to Jan. 1 (2012) and be a bit higher, but it's a fair a contract."

Employees who are asked to cover other jobs will also get more pay. Workers who are shifted to another job classification for more than a day will receive "out of class" pay; an additional 5 percent increase in their hourly rate.

The  contract also continues education benefits available to staff. At the discretion of the city manager, employees may attend college classes and be reimbursed for tuition and book expenses. Employees must pass courses with a grade of "C" or better to be eligible for reimbursement.

Strikes are highly discouraged in the proposed agreement. The union and its members agree not to stop or slow down city work. The city may also discipline or discharge employees who break the contract's strike clause, while the city also agrees not to lock out any employees.

The union initially submitted their input for a new contract to the city in September 2011. But with the firing of Bauer and the busy schedule at city hall, the contract has taken longer to finalize, Miller said.

One delay was the ongoing legal scrum over layoffs that occurred while Bauer was in charge at city hall, a dispute that eventually resulted in some employees getting their jobs back.

"It's been about six months' worth of negotiation," Smith said.

"One thing that happened was the arbitrator's decision at the beginning of 2012," Smith added.

"We are a small group of folks and there was a lot that had to be implemented from the arbitrator's decision. We had to take care of that before the contract discussions," she said.

An arbitration ruling in January ordered the city to offer jobs back to employees who were previously laid off. It resulted in another reorganization of staff at city hall.

Miller said that city employees have had a hard time in recent years and the contract will hopefully help.

"It's a challenging place to work," Miller said, who has also worked in the city's Public Works Department for 10 years.

Miller noted that city employees have endured many challenges over the past four years, from furloughs to changing medical plans early so the city could save money.

He also said that stable management would also go a long way to ease conditions at city hall.

"The turnover in management is significant," Miller said. "There are a lot of highly skilled employees there and it would be interesting to see what they could do with the right management. It's tough when the direction continually changing."



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