The Burlington City Council on Monday approved a five-year contract with most of its union employees.
The city’s new contract keeps almost all of the permissive language and gives union employees a 2.5% raise for each of the contract’s five years.
“All sides agreed (the contract was) fair and equitable,” Mayor Jon Billups explained.
With the exception of police officers and firefighters, all of the city’s union workers are a part of the American Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees Local 828, with Burlington Public Library employees who are a part of the AFSCME union submitting a separate contract to the library board.
These union negotiations mark the first between the city and AFSCME since sweeping changes were made to Iowa Code Chapter 20 in 2017, when the Legislature removed most union protections granted to government workers and made most provisions of Chapter 20 optional. The only provisions of union contracts that remain mandatory under are wages and the length of the contract.
However, city leadership decided to retain almost every provision of the contracts they are allowed to remove.
Some parts of the city’s original proposal were adopted by the union, including a 2.5% wage increase, which Hayley Corkey, an attorney for Lynch Dallas PC, a Cedar Rapids-based law firm representing the city, had proposed as the amount the city would have negotiated to either way.
The city also added a provision allowing more overtime pay for holiday hours, specifically mentioning a part-time lab tech and a part-time refuse driver.
Two new positions were added to the Burlington Wastewater Treatment facility — a maintenance and operations mechanic II and an electrician I. Don Fitting, superintendent of the facility, said these changes are mostly consistent with how the city recognizes some employees do more complex work than others with a similar title.
Unlike the Des Moines County supervisors, who are directly involved in the union negotiation process, the city union contracts were negotiated by the city’s administration, including then-interim city manager Jim Ferneau, Assistant City Manager for Public Works Nick MacGregor and Burlington Public Library Director Rhonda Frevert. Once an agreement is reached, the city council signs off on it.
Special provisions for bus drivers
While not considered public safety employees, the city’s transportation employees, namely those who work as bus drivers, will have extra rights under their contract with the city.
Chapter 20 grew by four pages as a result of the 2017 bill and tucked inside those pages was a paragraph saying federal law, specifically 49 U.S.C §5333(b), requires the city treat transit operators differently than other employees if the city receives federal transit dollars, which Burlington Urban Service relies upon to provide bus service to the city.
Under 49 U.S.C. §5333(b), the city may not remove any rights, privileges or benefits from transit employees and removal of these rights would put the federal transportation dollars in jeopardy.
The city also is required to give employees paid training and retraining programs.
These protections also must be deemed “fair and equitable” by the Department of Transportation. Public transportation employees who serve as mechanics also must be paid according to prevailing wages.
Rather than creating a separate union for BUS employees, it was decided the city would add an addendum to the AFSME contract that essentially provides transit employees with their own contract.
One of the things Chapter 20 changed was employees were not allowed to negotiate health insurance premiums. However, this provision remains in the Transit worker’s contracts. Employees will pay 6.75% of the cost of their healthcare coverage for each year of the five-year contract.
Also approved Monday night was a salary schedule for non-union employees. The wage schedule includes wages for all non-union employees except for the city manager, who negotiates their own salary in their contract with the city council.
The city’s salary schedule is created based on a ranking system of what skill level the employee would need to perform their job. Each pay grade includes about 50 ranking points and the wage schedule lists which positions would fall into that range, not the actual ranking for each position. The rankings range from a skill level of less than 350 to a skill level of more than 765.
Under the contract, all of the city’s department heads except for Frevert and Fittings are to be paid an annual salary between $88,000 and $114,000. Frevert and Fittings are paid between $80,000 and $104,000 for their annual salary.
In addition, since the city recently created the position of assistant city and transit engineer, this position had to be added to the wage schedule. The decision was made to place this position at a paygrade of 8, which includes a skill range of 630-680. This ranking is one step below the city engineer and the equivalent of a police lieutenant.