Why I voted against the labor agreements

By DJ Wilson
Edmonds City Council

On Tuesday night at our City Council meeting, I voted against our labor agreements with two of our bargaining units at the City of Edmonds. This vote has been particularly hard for me. I have voiced a number of concerns, both about process and substance, during our executive sessions. And I have struggled with this vote for weeks.

Since I was first elected to the City Council, I have been a strong advocate of new revenue into this city.

I drafted the Economic Development Commission ordinance, which has set in motion a tremendous citizen effort to help rejuvenate economic activity here in town.

I led a 60-person Citizens Levy Review Committee with the purpose of examining city services and determining an appropriate scope for a levy, if any at all.

There is no better way to continue to provide City services to those parents I represent, those taxpayers I represent, and the city employees I represent, than to get a general fund levy passed in Edmonds.

To do that, to fully address our revenue problem, I feel a responsibility to hold the line on expenses as much as I can.

I have worked to review our employee health care benefits to see if we could maintain benefits while shaving costs off of our administration.

As Council President, I led a process to contract our fire services to Fire District 1, saving the City about $1 million a year, and I continue to explore a Regional Fire Authority to find ways to streamline services.

Likewise, during this economy, I feel it is incumbent on me to maintain the status quo as much as possible when it comes to our labor contracts.

The contracts before Council last Tuesday were, unfortunately, not status quo contracts. Where cities like Seattle, Bellevue or Lynnwood are dramatically cutting costs, we are adding benefits. Where the state is instituting pay cuts of 3 percent, our payroll is growing.

Already part of the 4-year contract are annual cost of living increases, automatic 5 percent pay increases every year for the first five years of employment, automatic “longevity” pay increases every five years, and coverage of 91 percent of an employee’s family health benefits.

I believe our employees are adequately compensated, and further benefit increases are not warranted.

Instead, the contracts before Council did things like provide three new paid holidays to staff, over the life of the contract, to reimburse staff who took furlough days in 2009.

The new contract moves employees to a new health plan – one chosen in collaboration between the administration and the employees themselves.  However, this contract gives 100 percent of the savings in 2011 from the new plan – about $30,000 per month city-wide – back to the employees, rather than in a shared savings arrangement.

My concern is not one of employee compensation. Our employees are paid fairly, and again, they do more with less than any other city staff I know. I appreciate and respect the work they do.

My concern is getting our city on a stable financial footing. And with contracts that increase benefits like giving away new paid holidays, and giving away 100 percent of savings this year on health benefits, that is not a status-quo agreement.

These agreements send a bad message to the voters we need to have on our side. It tells our city staff we have more money than we do. And, it pretends that we are in good financial shape, when we are not.

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