MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 25, 2012

Councilors to discuss contracts

Negotiations with 3 employee groups to be addressed

— Contract negotiations with Muskogee’s three employee groups will be the topic of discussion when city councilors meet Monday during an executive session.

The collective bargaining agreements being negotiated are for the fiscal year that began July 1. Firefighters and police are working under the terms of agreements from the previous year. Non-uniform employees are trying to negotiate their first contract since they voted to reorganize in August.

City Manager Greg Buckley said negotiations with all three collective-bargaining groups are “progressing as expected.” Buckley said new contracts with firefighters and police officers are “close to being completed,” and progress continues with regard to the third employee group.

Despite concerns expressed by some a week ago about the apparent lack of progress toward a new contract with non-uniform employees, Buckley said he was unaware of any contentiousness. He did, however, acknowledge a reluctance to renew a prior agreement that established guidelines for the distribution of sales tax revenue dedicated for wages and benefits.

Reinstating the memorandum of understanding, however, is a key issue for non-uniform employees. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2465 leaders attributed the overwhelming support for union representation to frustration with a 25-cents-an-hour pay raise that resulted this year with an overall decrease.

The raise was granted in lieu of the annual lump sum distribution of surplus revenue generated by a dedicated sales tax approved by voters in 2004. The raise amounts to an extra $520 annually for non-uniform employees. Matthew Jordan, deputy administrator of AFSCME Local 2465, said calculations he was provided indicated employees would have received a lump sum payment of about $1,200 each through the terms of the memorandum of understanding.

Buckley said his resistance to reinstating the memorandum of understanding is based upon what he describes as “fiscal responsibility” and his interpretation of the ballot measure voters approved in 2004.

Voters approved a permanent, three-quarter-of-a-cent sales tax that has been used to fund a $1.63-an-hour raise for the city’s firefighters, police and non-uniform employees, benefits and equipment needs.

Eighty percent of the revenue is distributed equally into accounts set up for each of the three employee groups. Ten percent helps fund the employee benefit plan, and the remainder is set aside for certain capital and equipment needs.

The memorandum of understanding provided any surplus accumulated in excess of $105,000 during any given year would be distributed among the employees in equal shares. Police and firefighters presently have similar agreements in place.

Buckley said he believes both the city and its employees would benefit more if those memorandums were allowed to expire. Depleting those accounts annually through lump-sum distributions, Buckley said, diminishes the city’s ability to match or exceed wage and salary schedules being offered by other municipalities.

Being able to offer higher wages across the board, Buckley said, would improve morale in the workplace and enable the city to compete for quality workers. Buckley said regardless of whether there is a memorandum of understanding in place, all revenue generated by the 2004 dedicated sales tax is being used for the purpose authorized by voters.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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