Kalispell City Council ratified a contract with the public employees’ union at its Dec. 6 meeting. Under the deal, local chapters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO have agreed to no cost-of-living raises for the duration of the three-year contract. Either side, however, can request to open the contract to negotiate possible pay increases in the second and third year.
Also under the deal, current employees will continue to receive scheduled longevity increases, but workers hired after the signing of the contract won’t be eligible for longevity. Instead, new employees will receive what is called an “Experience Premium Supplement,” to be given only after the employee has moved through all the respective grades in a pay classification.
“What we’re trying to do is eliminate longevity just for longevity’s sake,” City Manager Jane Howington said, adding that the new system would be more performance-based.
Councilman Tim Kluesner, however, expressed frustration with what he considered the generous nature of some of the benefits awarded, like 15 annual vacation days as soon as an employee begins work.
“These are fantastic things that the rest of the private sector doesn’t get right out of the box,” Kluesner said. “I think it needs to be justified to the public constituents as to why this is such a good thing to offer and pay for, for our city employees.”
City Attorney Charlie Harball replied that state law dictated the terms of the contract in that case.
“When we negotiate a contract we are bound by a number of things,” Harball said. “One of them happens to be state law.”
“If taxpayers are concerned about the benefits of that, it’s not the city council they should be calling, it’s the Legislature,” Harball added.
Other council members praised the unions for accepting the deal, and said Kalispell should be willing to reopen negotiations for possible future raises, should the city’s financial outlook improve.
“I am fully aware that union people’s wages nationwide have been deteriorating year after year, while more affluent white collar trades have risen precipitously,” Councilman Bob Hafferman said. “I sure hope this trend changes.”
“Our union people are the people who directly affect our everyday lives,” he added.
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