BARRE – Unionized members of the city’s public works department will see their wages increase by 9.25 percent over the next three years even as they are incrementally required to pay a small portion of their health insurance premiums.

The newly negotiated pay raises and the first-time requirement with respect to health insurance are among the key features of a just-ratified three-year contract that replaces one way of rewarding employees for their continued service to the city with another.

As they did with separate unions representing those employed at local police and fire departments, city negotiators have eliminated a long-standing “longevity” benefit – a weekly bonus of $1.85 for every year of service that was capped at $50 a week.

In its place the new contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2022, creates a 25-step wage schedule that offers employees the opportunity to boost their wages by an extra 8 cents an hour – $3.20 for a 40-hour work week – each year.

Under the terms of the contract, the first of three annual pay raises – this one 3 percent – will be paid retroactively to Jan. 1, which is the day after the earlier agreement expired. Barring performance issues employees will receive an additional 8-cent-an-hour raise on July 1.

The two-step wage adjustment will repeat itself in the contract’s second and third years. On Jan. 1, 2021, employees will receive a 3.25 percent wage adjustment followed by an 8-cent step increase on July 1, 2021. On Jan. 1, 2022 the final 3 percent wage increase will go into effect followed by another mid-year 8-cent step increase.

Unlike the longevity benefit, the wage schedule doesn’t feature a $50 a week cap and isn’t just available to employees who have worked for the city for more than three years.

That allows the city to offer a more competitive wage, slot newly hired employees on the schedule commensurate with their experience while creating extra earning potential for the 20-member bargaining unit.

Though every step will be in 8-cents-an-hour increments this year, the first three steps will increase to 10 cents an hour in 2021 and to 12 cents an hour in 2022.

Step increases aside, the 9.25 percent wage hike over three years compares favorably to the recently lapsed four-year agreement that saw wages rise a total of 8 percent, in annual 2 percent increments.

On the health insurance front, the new labor agreement with public works employees, mirrors the benefit adjustment reflected in the now expiring contract with the police department, as well as the recently ratified contract with unionized firefighters.

During the contract’s first year employees enrolled in Gold CDHP plans will, for the first time, pay 2.5 percent of their monthly health insurance premiums with the city paying the remaining 97.5 percent. Those who opt to enroll in the Platinum plan offered on the state-run health care exchange would pay 12.5 percent of their premiums this year with the city picking up the balance.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2021 employees will pick up an additional 2.5 percent of their health insurance premiums. At that time the city will pay 95 percent of the premiums for those enrolled in Gold CDHP plans and 85 percent of the premiums for Platinum plans for the duration of the contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2022.

The city will continue to make annual contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) established for employees, but those contributions will be capped for the life of the contract, not tied to the escalating cost of the priciest plan on the state-run exchange.

Employees enrolled in single, two-person and parent-child plans will have $1,800 a year deposited in their HSAs, while those enrolled in family plans will receive annual contributions of $2,250.

The new cap should yield the significant savings for the city by abandoning a formula that quickly proved to be financially unsustainable.

Meanwhile, the city gained new flexibility with respect to filling vacancies and negotiated “on call pay” for operators of its water and wastewater facilities.

Though members of the bargaining unit must be considered for promotional opportunities, the city is not precluded from advertising those positions and has the authority to hire the most qualified candidate.

The “on call” provision provides the city with emergency backup operators for its water and wastewater plants, while compensating those designated employees for being able to swiftly respond to an alarm.

Effective immediately operators assigned to on call duty will be paid $105 a week, or $15 a day. Compensation increases to $112 per week, or $16 a day, in the contract’s second year and to $119 per week, or 17 per day, in the final year of the agreement.

Three of the city’s four municipal labor unions are now under contract, though one of those agreements – the one covering police officers and emergency dispatchers will expire on June 30.

Negotiations are ongoing with the city’s unionized clerical and custodial staff. That bargaining unit is still working under the terms of a contract that expired on June 30, 2019. Negotiations are set to resume on Feb. 18.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

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