Mediation is the likely next step after the City of Edmonds’ largest labor union earlier this week overwhelmingly rejected the city’s latest contract offer.
Teamsters Local 763 represents 66 city employees who work at the wastewater treatment plant, and in jobs related to water, sewer, streets, stormwater, parks and facilities, said Liz Brown, the local’s business agent.
Representatives from the union and the city have been bargaining since September for a new agreement to replace the three-year contract that expired on Dec. 31, 2017, said Brown, who described the negotiations as “very difficult.” Among the sticking points: health care benefits, wages and job-bidding language.
Members rejected the contract by a vote of 47-3 on Jan. 31, Brown said. (A reason for the discrepancy in numbers of union members vs. those casting ballots is related to the requirement that members must be present to vote, so those on vacation or out sick aren’t counted.)
City of Edmonds Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie said the city, which has a total of 220 employees, “has been bargaining in good faith” with Local 763 to reach an agreement, and will continue to do so. Hardie added that both parties are considering mediation through the Washington State Public Employees Relations Commission.
“We look forward to coming to an agreement on this contract,” Hardie said.
According to Brown, Local 763’s membership ranges from seasonal laborers to employees who are required to maintain commercial drivers licenses and hold certifications necessary to perform certain work, such as operating the wastewater treatment plant.
Edmonds’ wastewater plant is one of only five in the state that incinerate the solid material generated during the treatment process. “Our members take great pains to keep that incinerator in compliance,” Brown said.
The union is concerned that the city’s new health care plan has fewer benefits and increased out-of-pocket costs, Brown said, adding that “this is a big issue not just for us but for the entire city.” The union also disagrees with a city proposal to eliminate language that ties wage increases to the Consumer Price Index, and opposes elimination of job-bidding language which has allowed local members to be considered first if they wanted to apply for a different job in the same bargaining unit.
According to Brown, the city has a five-step wage range, with the average hourly rate for entry-level employees set at $23.69 an hour, scaling to a top step of $28.86 an hour.
Hardie said that employee health insurance benefits continue to shift with increasing costs and plan changes nationwide. The city’s health insurance consortium, the Association of Washington Cities, decided to terminate — as of Jan. 1, 2018 — the two health insurance plans that all consortium members were covered under. To avoid interruption of coverage for Edmonds employees, the city transitioned to a new plan Jan. 1, but the change has been a topic of negotiations with all four of the city’s unions.
“We are pleased that we have been able to come to an agreement on the health insurance matter with both our EPOA (commissioned police officers) through the negotiations process and have a contract for council final approval for EPOA Law Support (non-commissioned police staff) that addresses the health insurance plan change,” Hardie said in an email.
While the union recognizes that the need to change health plans wasn’t the city’s fault, “we think the city needs to do more to address increased costs to employees,” Brown said.
“When the Great Recession came, our members were the first to step up and take unpaid furlough time,” Brown said, referring to the nine unpaid furlough days taken in 2009 by both represented and non-represented City of Edmonds employees to ensure uninterrupted city services.
“It was a tough decision but our members showed a lot of leadership,” Brown added. “We were willing to take hits when times were bad, and times aren’t bad right now.”
— By Teresa Wippel