City employee contract negtiations breakdownElectricians and supporters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers held and informational picket outside Two Harbors City Hall Monday night. Approximately 20 people gathered and carried signs to call attention to what they say is the city’s slow response to negotiating a fair contract.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Electricians and supporters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers held and informational picket outside Two Harbors City Hall Monday night. Approximately 20 people gathered and carried signs to call attention to what they say is the city’s slow response to negotiating a fair contract.
IBEW Local 31 represents line-workers and fresh water workers employed by the City of Two Harbors and line workers at Cooperative Light and Power. The city’s IBEW members say they have been without a contract since the first of January and are in the third year of a wage freeze. They’ve been in discussions with a negotiator hired by the city, but both sides agree that talks have come to a standstill.
“We’re basically at an impasse. We don’t want to be in this position and we don’t want them to be in the positions they’re in,” said Two Harbors City Council President Jerry Norberg, citing the city’s responsibility to be good stewards of residents’ money, “we have to stay within budget.”
City employee, IBEW member and union steward, Stuart Anderson said the city can afford a reasonable increase in pay for union members. Line workers are paid from “enterprise funds”—monies the city collects from the sale of electrical service to residences and businesses. Similar funds exist for proceeds from the other city utilities. Anderson said that fund from which the city’s IBEW union workers are paid, containes a significant amount of money.
“The last offer they made,” Anderson said, “was zero percent (raise) the first year and one percent the second year. With the increase in the cost of medical, there’d be no one percent. We’d be going backwards.”
IBEW’s business manager, Mark Glazier, agreed with Anderson and said that the contract under which members are being paid is the lowest among regional units. Their hourly wage is significantly less than those of Cooperative Light and Power employees for the same work, for example. In fact, when city line workers are called to assist CL&P workers to repair lines in an emergency, workers may be making repairs on the same street, but CL&P lineworkers are making $10 per hour more per hour. The union says it is not negotiating for parity, but it wants the city to move toward a compromise.
“I think people understand. We’ve been trying to come to an agreement, but there’s more than a $10 difference. We’d like to at least get closer,” said Glazier.
Also at issue was the city’s reliance on a contract negotiator.
“In my opinion negotiating power has been given away to an disinterested third party,” said Anderson.
“What happened here is that (the city) has hired a labor consultant and they’ve lost control of the negotiation,” said Glazier.
Norberg said he could not comment on specifics of the negotiations, but that the negotiator had been hired by the city and would continue working under the supervision of the council.