The Fairbanks City Council voted to amend labor agreements with the city’s firefighters and IBEW employee unions Monday, passing both but not without some light controversy. The agreements covered both wage and benefits increases, and the employees were particularly concerned with the cost of health care.
In previous discussions about the agreement with the Fairbanks Firefighters Union IAFF Local 1324, Councilman Jerry Cleworth expressed his disagreement with the council’s choice to go ahead with what both he and City Chief of Staff Mike Meeks called a “mistake” in negotiations.
During negotiations with the firefighters, the council gave Meeks and the negotiating team an upper limit for the base increase under discussion. The council had agreed to a 1.5% wage and benefits package increase for the course of a three-year contract but that limit was exceeded in discussion.
Meeks told council members during a summary of the discussions that it was up to them to decide if the number agreed to — 1.79% — was substantially different enough to prevent them from approving the agreement.
Cleworth felt it was.
“One of the frustrating things, as a council member, is that when we make mistakes, we fix them by throwing money at them, and I don’t like to do that,” he said, adding that the firefighters contract was already out of step with the city’s other union agreements.
Cleworth later told the News-Miner that agreeing to the higher number “ratcheted it up even higher than the other three” and that he could not vote in favor of the contract for that reason.
The contract went to a vote without further council discussion and passed 4-2 with Cleworth and Councilman David Pruhs opposed.
The three-year contract grants an increase of 17 cents per hour toward wages, and the remainder of the funds will go toward paying health premiums. In total, the increase adds $292,374 to the agreement, or $97,458 each year. It takes effect retroactively as of Jan. 1, 2019.
The council also approved a contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547, granting the union a 2.36% pay and benefits increase to the previously negotiated agreement. The increase will be retroactive to March 1.
IBEW employees include administrative assistants, secretaries, clerks, engineers, accountants, and high-level management, such as the public works director.
The originally negotiated IBEW contract was set to cost the city $219,000 until 2020. The new contract adds $71,700 in wages to this year’s budget and $86,000 to the budget for 2020, a 2.36% increase. There are provisions within the contract to reopen the contract for negotiation after 2020. Per the new agreement, 63 cents per hour of increased wages will be applied to health care.
However, as Councilwoman Shoshanna Kun pointed out, the small increase to health care was only one of the issues negotiated. She asked the public to contact the council with any questions they might have.
The council voted 5-0 to approve the contract, with Councilwoman June Rogers abstaining.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572.