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Public services employees still on strike as of Monday afternoon

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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City leaders met with union reps from Local 39 for most of Monday as 36 out of 37 of the city’s classified employees continued to strike outside of City Hall and at the city’s corporation yard. No agreement on a contract for the classified group had been agreed to by both parties as of Monday at 3 p.m., so the employees will continue to strike. They began their strike on Sept. 14 due to because the city is asking them to pay for their health care. When asked by The News Messenger what concessions the classified group had offered the city that day, Local 39 business representative James Britton would not comment. The strike is in response to City Council’s decision Tuesday night to implement a Last, Best and Final Offer for the Local 39 Classified Group, according to previous News Messenger reports. The portion of the Last, Best and Final Offer that the employees don’t agree with is paying 10-percent out-of-pocket for their health care, according to Britton, and that they would have to pay 100 percent of any health care premium increases in the third year of their contract. Monthly healthcare rates for 2011 are $524 for just the employee, $1,049 for an employee plus one additional person on the policy, and $1,363 for a family of three or more, according to Britton. The employees tentatively agreed to pay 5 percent out-of-pocket for the above rates, according to Britton, and the Last, Best, and Final Offer would mean employees would pay 10 percent of those rates per month for the first year. Britton said an average public services employee earns $40,000 to $45,000 per year in salary alone, but some striking workers told The News Messenger they made from $30,000 to $40,000 a year. A salary report released this summer by the city for the 2010 calendar year shows that public services employees can make between $32,713 and $69,667. A dollar amount for how much an average public service employee is paid in benefits was not available as of press time on Friday afternoon. “There’s not a solid number to say per hour because no one has done that calculation,” Britton said. Some on strike called the city asking for concessions a political move. “That’s the pressure they (city leaders) are getting from the public, that public salaries are too high,” Tim Collins, a steward for Lincoln’s classified bargaining unit and solid waste employee, said on Friday. “Their (residents) major complaint is with upper management, and not the lower level employees.” Collins added that “people making $40,000 are not the problem.” “We’d be more than happy to make more concessions to our medical if they would make it up in their salaries,” Collins said. Most of the city’s classified employees are paid for out of the enterprise f und, which Collins said “is in the black.” Collins pointed out that four classified employees are paid out of the city’s General Fund. The General Fund funds police, fire, library and recreation. “The biggest issue is that we’re not a draw on the problem,” Collins said. “The only reason that can’t afford it is because they haven’t done utility rate increases in years and would have to raise rates.” Jesse Corral, a solid waste employee, also said he felt the concessions being asked of the group were “political.” “The way I see it, there’s nothing in it for the General Fund,” Corral said. “Why are they asking us to give up so much when it’s not benefitting the city?” Corral said the classified group is willing to pay their share of CalPERS, State Disability Insurance and are “willing to give up five percent of our medical without the cap.” The News Messenger asked public services director Mark Miller why the city is asking the classified group to make concessions since they receive their pay out of the city’s enterprise fund. “This is all tax payer money, whether it’s General Fund or enterprise fund,” Miller said. “We cannot raise rates in this economic climate.” The concessions allow the city to “go longer without raising rates.” “Local 39 has had significant raises over the last few years when many rate payers not only didn’t get raises but quite a few lost their jobs,” Miller said. “The economic reality is that you have to control costs overall.” The News Messenger sent e-mails and made phone calls to City Manager Jim Estep and Mayor Paul Joiner to ask if they have a response to some classified employees saying the concessions asked of them are a political move by the city. Estep and Joiner did not respond by press time. The city has contracted its solid waste services, also known as garbage pick-up, with Atlas Disposal, according to Miller. The city utilized two contracted employees at $48 an hour to do garbage pick-up on Friday, according to Miller. “It’s $48 an hour on an emergency basis,” Miller said. “That rate is essentially an emergency on-call rate. It’s more than that if we had a long term contract.” Miller said there are normally five to six solid waste employees working on an average day, and 20,000 homes and businesses are serviced throughout the city. “It’s a lot of trash to pick up, and of course, we are concerned to do it as quickly as we can because it does present a health issue,” Miller said. Miller said nine public services supervisors “have stepped out to do the rank and file work.”