Largo approves contract with city workers union
By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007
LARGO - City leaders approved a new three-year contract for Largo's largest municipal workers union last week, more than a month after the previous agreement expired.
For weeks, city and union officials wrangled back and forth, sticking on a few key issues - especially health insurance.
Union members approved the new contract by a 3-to-1 margin on Nov. 1, and city commissioners ratified the agreement Wednesday night.
"Both sides compromised, and the contract is fair to the employees and the city," said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert, who acts as the city's labor relations officer.
The biggest sticking point, according to union leaders, was a new requirement for employees to pay a percentage of their health insurance premiums.
Now, the city pays 100 percent of insurance premiums for individual employees. The agreement will require employees to pay 5 percent of their individual premiums beginning in 2009.
Some union members reluctantly compromised on that issue because they recognized the city had made efforts to increase employee wages fairly, said Steve Sarnoff, president of Communication Workers of America Local 3179.
"Even though many members told us they didn't want to vote yes because of the health care issue, many did see the justice in those increases and realized the city was trying to be as fair as it could," Sarnoff said.
CWA employees had little wiggle room, mostly because members of two other city unions, the Police Benevolent Association and the International Association of Firefighters, already pay part of individual insurance premiums.
"We really didn't have a leg to stand on," said Largo's CWA vice president, Dawn Smolowitz. "We fought as hard as we could as long as we could."
The CWA represents more than 380 blue-collar, clerical and technical employees at the city. That's more than a third of the city's workforce. The union, which has members in all city departments, also represents municipal workers of Clearwater, Madeira Beach, Port Richey and St. Pete Beach.
Three other unions represent Largo firefighters, police officers and police lieutenants.
All of the CWA employees will receive a 4 percent wage increase for each year of the contract.
And following a recent market survey, more than three-quarters of the union's members will also be awarded position upgrades and one-time increases of 2 to 10 percent prior to their first-year increase.
As of last month, city and union officials were still hung up on wage and health insurance issues.
The union wanted a 4 percent wage increase the first two years of the contract and a 5 percent increase the last year. The city offered wage increases of 3.5 percent the first two years and 4 percent the last year.
The city also asked union members to pay 10 percent of their individual health insurance premiums by the contract's third year.
Both sides made concessions, Schubert said.
"Neither side ever gets everything it wants," he said.
Although the contract expired Sept. 30, officials said it was not unusual for talks to lag a few weeks past the expiration date.
"Three years ago, we didn't come to an agreement until November," Schubert said.
Despite some snags, Smolowitz said union leaders were fairly confident the parties could reach an agreement.
"We have had a very good working relationship with the city administration," Smolowitz said. "We work very hard to have open communication and dialogue between us."
While the agreement was ratified last week, wage increases are retroactive to Oct. 21, the first day of the period in which bargaining teams tentatively agreed to the new contract.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 445-4155.
New labor contract
Key provisions of the new three-year contract between the city of Largo and Communication Workers of America Local 3179, which represents more than 380 city employees:
- A 4 percent raise for each of the contract's three years.
- More than three-quarters of union members will get position upgrades and additional one-time pay increases of 2 to 10 percent.
- Union members will begin to pay 5 percent of their individual health insurance premiums starting in 2009.
[Last modified November 10, 2007, 20:42:47]
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