Avon Lake police and fire unions have agreed to a three-year wage freeze after negotiations were completed recently. City Council still needs to ratify the agreements, which are expected to save the city a minimal $441,000 annually had the unions been issued 2 percent raises.
The new contracts are slated to go into effect July 1. Council is planning a special June 20 meeting to vote by motion whether to approve the contract.
Avon Lake Human Resource Director George Wintermyer, who along with Mayor K.C Zuber negotiated the contracts with the Avon Lake police, fire and service unions, said the agreements will impact all 150-city employees, including service department employees in unions.
The Avon Lake Service Department employees had different negotiations due to Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) pickup. The city currently pays 8.5 percent of that union’s salary into the system for retirement. That 8.5 percent will be phased out over the next three years and replaced with matching raises. Police and fire department unions are not part of the PERS system.
“Back in 1987 and 1988, in lieu of a wage increase the administration at that time, and council, approved giving service department employees a 4.5 percent PERS pickup in lieu of raise for the first year,” Wintermyer said. “The following year the city contributed 4 percent pickup in lieu of a raise.”
On July 1, service union employees will have their PERS pickup reduced by 3 percent, but they will receive a 3 percent wage increase. Next July 1 the city will reduce the PERS pickup by another 3 percent and those workers will receive another 3 percent and another 3 percent wage increase. The remaining 2.5 percent will be phased out at the start of the contract’s third year and the workers will receive a matching raise.
“For the city, it’s a wash,” Wintermyer said. “Essentially they’re not getting a raise."
Wintermyer said a minimum 2 percent raise would be typical in negotiations.
Those employees will receive less in the long run, since PERS pickup is not taxable.
Wintermyer said the PERS negotiations were the result of Senate Bill 5 (SB 5).
“SB-5 is eliminating PERS pickup for all state employees, including municipal employees,” Wintermyer said.
Avon Lake’s three police unions, including the dispatcher’s union, will not receive any wage increases. Avon Lake Fire Lt. John Reitz said the new fire department union contracts contained three changes: A wage freeze for three years at 2011 pay rates, new higher deductible health care plan as option and reduced vacation hours earned by first year employees.
“The unions made the initial offer to the administration after seeing that City Council froze the wages of themselves and the mayor,” Reitz said in an email. “Our members realize that we are not immune to this economic environment and feel that City Council will be very pleased with the new agreement.”
"They came to us with a pay freeze and thought it was a good idea and we agreed," Zuber said.
The mayor said he meets with union leaders on a regular basis.
"They said, 'We want to keep the contract the same with the wage freeze,'” Zuber said. "They said, 'This is what we want to do, let’s make it quick and easy or we’ll pull the offer off the table.''
Two health care plans are now available to Avon Lake union workers: a 90-10 plans and an 80-20 plan with a higher deductible. Depending on which plan employees select could mean another $100,000 in savings for the city.