Fire Union Contract Increases Wages, Pension Contribution
City officials praise contract, say give-and-take produced agreement that's fair to both sides.
The city of Oak Creek and the firefighters' union have come to terms on a contract similar to the police union deal approved in March.
Under the three-year agreement, Local 1848 members get a 3 percent wage increase the first two years and 2 percent in the last year. But employees will also make contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System of 3 percent in 2012 and 2.9 percent (or the state-adjusted rate) the next year.
The agreement also eliminates health insurance for retirees and their spouses when they become eligible for Medicare. That reduces the city's Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability by some $6 million to $7 million, city officials said.
In exchange, the city will pay out a total of $209,000 into current employees' pension account -- a one-time payment equal to 150 hours based on a rate of $33.17 per hour.
All told, the net increase to the city is roughly $70,000, according to a report to council members.
The contract also allows the city to implement changes in the health plan design.
Labor Attorney Rob Buikema, who represented Oak Creek in the negotiations, said the city wanted the fire union contract to be consistent with other city employees.
"In light of Act 10, with bargaining rights still intact for police and fire, that was achievable, but at a higher cost," Buikema said. "You can say, clearly, that we have achieved consistency with insurance and the post-65 elimination and the WRS payment, but obviously there had to be a corresponding wage increase."
Buikema praised the city's Personnel Committee and the firefighters union for reaching a voluntary settlement.
"In any bargain, there's give and take. There had to be a lot of give and take here," he said. "I think it says a lot about the union and the city that we were able to achieve a voluntary settlement, especially as challenging as several of the issues are."
Oak Creek aldermen agreed, saying negotiations got intense at times and it took concessions from both sides.
"This was an agreement that was fair to both sides," said Alderman Tom Michalski, who is also a member of the Personnel Committee. "While we went ahead with some wage increases for the next three years, I think the big picture is the OPEB costs that will be paid back ten-fold.
"I'm on other taxing bodies (Milwaukee Area Technical College) and I know that other taxing bodies are really struggling to meet their OPEB financial responsibilities, and this is one way to do it. I'm just happy to say we're going down a path for the future of the city to have these under control."
The council approved the agreement on a 5-0 vote. Alderman Ken Gehl, who opposed the police union contract because it increased wages, was not present for that portion of the meeting.
The council has also approved a salary increase for Finance Director Mark Wyss.
Wyss took on additional duties of comptroller, which previously resided with the city clerk, City Administrator Gerald Peterson said. His salary is now at $96,175, up from $85,064.
"I believe that a reclassification of this position within our wage scale, making its pay on par with Police Department captains and the deputy fire chief position, is appropriate and justified," Peterson said.