MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 13, 2013

Labor contract draft to go before council

Negotiators for city, non-uniform workers both expect approval

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Negotiators involved with the drafting of a new contract for the city’s non-uniform employees will present a proposed labor contract Monday for city councilors to consider.

Administrators and a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees International appeared optimistic that the proposal would gain City Council approval and employee ratification.

Matthew Jordan, an AFSCME International field organizer, said negotiators have signed off on the draft agreement.

“Now, we are just waiting for the city councilors and the employees to sign off on it,”  said Jordan, who was appointed in 2011 to serve as a trustee for Local 2465 after city councilors voted for its demise. “We had a big meeting a couple weeks ago, and the employees are pretty much on board with it.”

City Manager Greg Buckley described the development as a positive step and said he was looking forward to getting “our first re-established contract behind us and ... move forward doing positive things.”

The contract, if approved and ratified, would establish the contractual relationship between non-uniform employees and their employer for the present fiscal year. Fiscal year 2013 contracts for city police and firefighters were approved in December by city councilors and those employee groups.

Jordan said the proposed contract would re-establish the employee group’s collective bargaining relationship. But, in order “to catch up with firefighters and police, we will have to immediately go back to the table and start negotiating next year’s contract.”

“We had a hard push there for a while, but we got it over the hill,” he said. “When we get this next round of contracts done, we will be back to where we were before they tried to undo us.”

The proposed contract has yet to be made public, but it is said to include provisions that provide increased vacation time for newer employees. It also includes incentives that administrators hope will result in greater participation in the city’s deferred compensation plan, which is similar to a private-sector 401(k) retirement plan.

“Looking at other cities and other areas, we found we needed to increase vacation benefits at those other levels in order to be comparable with what other cities are providing,” Buckley said. “We were already in line with what cities in similar markets were showing on the high end for employees with longer tenure.”

Buckley said the city would provide a slight increase in its contribution to the deferred compensation plan. He said the proposed increase “is not a huge thing, but it adds up, and hopefully, we can get more participation.”

In addition to the deferred compensation plan, defined contribution pension plans are in place for all three of the city’s employee groups. Buckley said the deferred compensation plan is “another vehicle” employees have available “to put tax-deferred dollars toward their retirements.”

Michael Bates, the city’s labor relations manager and lead negotiator, told city councilors that the vacation and deferred compensation provisions in the proposed AFSCME contract likely will be presented later as memorandums of understanding for the police and firefighters unions to consider.

Jordan said the possibility that AFSCME Local 2465 could have a new contract next week brings with it better prospects.

“It’s taken almost two years, but it’s gone almost full circle,” he said. “I see a bright future for the local through this idea of a partnership between the union and the administration.”

City councilors will take up the issue during an executive session and could vote after reconvening in open session. The City Council will convene at 7 p.m. Monday. Those who wish to weigh in on agenda items or speak about an unrelated topic must complete a form before the meeting begins and should arrive earlier.

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