Elgin to ink public works contract, two unions still in talks

Updated 10/23/2012 4:54 PM

Elgin City Council members will vote Wednesday on their second collective bargaining agreement of the year with two more unions still negotiating contracts.

Public works employees in SEIU Local 73 voted 68 to 3 in favor of the proposed contract, which allows for a 2-percent raise through the end of 2012 and applies retroactively to December 2011, when the last contract expired.

Public works employees had not seen a raise in three years -- one year longer than any other bargaining unit in the city.

Mark McQueen, president of the union and a relief water operator for Elgin, said employees are satisfied with the contract.

"Neither side ever gets everything they want and that's the case, obviously, here," McQueen said. "But both sides reached a fair deal."

A change to the contract will make it easier for the city to use GPS tracking as a disciplinary tool when public works employees go off their routes. McQueen said that was a concession on the part of the union but one he reasoned with members shouldn't affect those people doing their jobs as they are supposed to.

With the latest contract, union members gained longevity compensation they didn't have before. Employees with more than 15 years of continuous service will get annual bonuses starting at $750 and increasing to $1,500 for 35 years of service or more.

That's something police and fire employees get after 10 years but public works employees will get for the first time starting in 2014.

The contract -- to which council members already have given preliminary approval -- is good through December 2014, but both sides will be able to renegotiate wages in 2013 and 2014 while the rest of the provisions remain in place.

Representatives of the union and the city have been negotiating for a year on this contract. While the firefighters union and the clerical/technical employees represented by SEIU are both in arbitration for their contracts, McQueen said for his members it wasn't worth the wait.

"If our guys wanted to get a raise here in 2012 we needed to settle," McQueen said.

Because the police officers' union agreed to a 2-percent raise for 2012, a "me-too" provision guaranteed the same amount for public works employees, a minimum the union was willing to take. If either of the remaining unions negotiates higher wages in 2013 or 2014, the public works contract allows for matching raises for its members.

City Manager Sean Stegall said the city is working with clerical-technical employees on unresolved issues related to a contract that expired in 2010. One sticking point is a proposed no-increase for 2011 that police, fire and public works employees accepted, but that the clerical-technical employees have not agreed to.

An arbitration hearing is scheduled for next month with the clerical-technical union, also represented by SEIU. Firefighter union reps will meet with the city and an arbitrator Oct. 31 for their contract, which Stegall said is also held up by economic issues.

Council members will have the chance to approve the public works contract with the rest of the consent agenda at Wednesday's council meeting. There is no discussion of items on the consent agenda because they already have unanimous support of the council.

Also on the consent agenda is approval of a pay and benefit plan for non-bargaining city employees, who are also guaranteed the 2-percent raise in 2012 because of the "me too" provision.

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