The Fairbanks City Council rejected a three-year contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Monday because the majority of the members were against giving out bonuses during the economically challenging times of the pandemic.

The contract would set a 1.5% to 3% yearly salary increase for the 29 city employees who are members of the union, as well as a yearly bonus up to $1,500, the city’s Chief of Staff Mike Meeks said during the meeting.

The council members Valerie Therrien and Shoshana Kun voted for accepting the contract, while Aaron Gibson, Lonny Marney and Jim Clark voted against it. Council member June Rogers did not participate in voting and discussion because of a conflict of interest.

Among the opponents of the contract, Gibson said that the government shouldn't hand out bonuses at the time when the private industry does not.

Marney agreed, saying that he sees how the community is struggling.

“I volunteer across the street every Wednesday and hand out food boxes, and this town is hurting,” Marney said. “There are people who are living in cars, there are people that are putting their groceries on credit cards and maxing those out.”

The city staff came up with an idea to give a bonus after analyzing raises and bonuses for every union since 2002.

“The bonus was because the IBEW is behind other unions, and this was a cheaper route to take,” Mayor Jim Matherly said to the members. “It is a COVID year, and we’ve been trying to save money at every step — just know that. The word “bonus” makes you panic too much.”

The money for giving these bonuses would come from the IBEW salary savings that get accumulated when the union doesn’t fill the vacancy positions. These savings would define the size of the bonuses, Meeks said.

“It’s savings, and we want to put it toward capital, and I think the mayor and everyone here probably agrees with that,” he said. "There is just one difference: The mayor believes that our employees are our capital also.”

Besides the objections about the bonuses, Gibson also had concerns about the language and methodology of the contract.

“Not supporting the IBEW contract wasn’t me not supporting our employees,” he said. "I think I have some legitimate concerns about how that contract is written, and I look forward to being able to work with our negotiation team and come up with something that will be a little bit better for our employees than what we were doing initially.”

Therrien and Matherly said that all the concerns were valid but that they should have been brought up earlier in previous meetings or emails.

The city started the discussions with the union about a year ago. Since then, the city’s negotiation team has had 14 meetings with the IBEW and six executive sessions with the council where the members discussed what has been accomplished and gave instructions to the negotiators.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this contract, and our new council members were in for all of those executive sessions where we gave directions to the administration and the negotiating team,” Therrien said. She added that the negotiation team followed the City Council’s instructions, and the council didn’t approve it. “I’m sure that our employees will be very disappointed.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.