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updated: 11/22/2011 5:47 PM

Wheaton inks 5-year deal with public works union

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After nearly seven months without one, Wheaton Public Works employees have a new contract. The agreement also means more health care savings for employees and the city.

The five-year contract includes automatic step increases that City Manager Don Rose said run somewhere between 4 and 5 percent per year. However, Rose said more than half of public works employees have already reached the maximum number of steps within their specific job classification.

Otherwise, the contract calls for no raises this year, 1 percent next year and 1.25 percent the following year. That will be followed by 1.5 percent increases during the final two years of the contract, which expires April 30, 2016. The actual raise will depend upon which step an employee sits on.

A first-year maintenance specialist, for instance, starts on Step 1 this year and makes $22.57 per hour. Starting May 1, 2012, he would receive the step increase and raise, resulting in a 6.1 percent increase to $23.95. However, a maintenance specialist maxed out in Step 7 makes $30.60 per hour this year. Next year, he would jump 1 percent to $30.91.

Also under the deal, the city will no longer provide employees with health and dental insurance. Instead, the workers union, Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, will provide the insurance.

Union officials say this will save the city money by reducing its contributions to employee health plans. The new plan also should cost employees "far less" for coverage, said Local 150's director of communications Ed Maher.

The deal also reduces longer-range benefits such as: vacation days employees can carry from year to year; limits to sick leave accrual, and the amount of sick leave that can be paid out upon retirement. New hires will also lose some benefits such as severance pay after retirement or resignation and sick pay at retirement.

Maher said the negotiations went smoothly despite the employees working since April 30 without a contract.

"The city had to be cautious to make sure they got the best deal for the taxpayers and we had to make sure it benefits the workers," Maher said. "It's really a win-win for the city and the members. This is what can happen when both sides are willing to work hard toward mutually beneficial results."

The public works union's previous agreement ended on the same day as three other contracts. City officials continue to seek a deal with two police unions. A third police union, one covering community service and communications officers, chose to decertify recently, Rose said.

As for the other two unions, Rose said discussions have not gone as well as the public works discussions.

"We have been discussing a number of things related to benefit reductions and minimal salary increases," Rose said. "When looking at changing the status quo in collective bargaining, it's not always the easiest thing to do."

Rose said the negotiations took a realistic look at its personnel costs and benefits, which he estimated constituted roughly 75 percent of its overall budget.

"Over the years, perhaps some of them got out of line with other communities and/or the private sector," he said. "The public works union was willing to talk about those things. I cannot say we necessarily came to a unanimous agreement but we worked through some of the things we disagreed on."

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