Thanks, city staff; I appreciate your efforts

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Wow! A $1.27 million thank-you is in order to city of Lincoln staff. Employees usually don’t voluntarily reduce their income. And yet the city’s 175 city workers in six labor groups recently did just that to help reduce city expenditures at a time when revenue is down. So it’s fitting to acknowledge the workers’ cuts to their livelihood or net take-home pay. And to thank the city’s 175 workers for their willingness to take the concessions. I wanted to express my appreciation publicly because Rich MacKirdy, the fiscal sustainability committee’s compensation subcommittee chairman, spoke against the labor contracts at last week’s council meeting. He told council, “At some point, the city needs to start saying no to the ever increasing compensation negotiated by the bargaining units and unions.” But MacKirdy’s criticism is unfair. The 175 city workers are each making sacrifices through their labor union concessions. The workers’ willingness, in fact, is a sharp contrast to last September when public service workers and City Council were at odds with each other. Last year, public service workers did not agree with a change to their health-care coverage in the council’s Sept. 13, 2011 Last, Best, and Final Offer. Under that offer, they would pay 10 percent out-of-pocket for healthcare the first year instead of 5 percent and 100 percent of any health-care rate increases. The workers struck for six weeks, according to previous News Messenger reports, without winning any of their bargaining points because their medical coverage would have been lost if they didn’t return to work within a certain time period. Fast forward to last week and that 80/20 healthcare concession is a done deal for city workers. “All employees will have gradually taken the 80/20 health cut as of Jan. 1, 2013,” said Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep. “All represented employees will pay 20 percent and the city 80 percent in all six groups.” As of last week’s City Council meeting, taking concessions in new 27-month labor contracts are Lincoln Police Officers’ Association and Lincoln Professional Firefighters’ Association employees. Also taking concessions in new three-year labor contracts are International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 Classified and Professional Administrative groups and the Mid-Management/ Confidential Group employees. The sixth labor group, the Lincoln Police and Fire Mid-Management/Supervisory Bargaining Unit, had its three-year contract approved on May 22. City workers voluntarily taking cuts are in all departments and at all levels. That includes maintenance workers, clerical staff, accountants, library staff, solid waste workers, park maintenance workers, recreation staff, firefighters and police officers, everyone who provides services we enjoy as residents. “We’ve made concessions over the last three years by not taking pay raises, losing cost-of-living adjustments, paying 9 percent retirement for PERS last year, leading up to this contract,” said Lincoln Police Officer Steve Krueger, a team negotiator for his labor group. But Krueger said his group knows that the city is in a tough financial position. “Half of our guys live in Lincoln,” Krueger said. “Our department is smaller than ever, the city is bigger than ever in population. We need to be part of the solution.” That solution means all city workers voluntarily taking home hundreds of dollars less each paycheck. According to information given in the Aug. 14 City Council agenda item for the labor contracts, the total known savings for current employees in the first year is $1.27 million. “We expect to save more in future years because of avoiding full impact of future cost increases,” Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep said. “For example, when health care costs increase, the city will no longer have to absorb the entire cost increase.” “Because of these savings, the city will be more financially secure both short and long-term,” Estep added. Larry Menth, the city’s chief negotiator, explained the contract changes at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting. Contract changes include employees paying 20 percent of their healthcare costs; elimination of state disability insurance repayment at the end of each year and elimination of additional money paid for levels of employee education such as associates and bachelor degrees. Vacation cash-out has also been eliminated and overtime pay for firefighters will decrease from 2.1 percent of their pay to 1.5 percent. One fiscal sustainability member, Lee Guth, reprimanded City Councilman Stan Nader in an e-mail, which was cced to another committee member Larry Whitaker and City Councilman Gabe Hydrick, about an hour after the Aug. 14 council meeting. The e-mail scolded Nader for voting to approve contracts for five of the city’s six labor groups. Hydrick was the only council member voting no at last week’s City Council meeting. “I am, to say the least dismayed as I thought the vote would be at least 3-2,” Guth wrote Nader. No matter what some community members may say, it’s inspiring that city workers put our city’s fiscal health first.