Mayor-elect David Condon likely will have to win a second term if he wants to tinker with the pay and benefits of nearly half of the City Hall work force.
The Spokane City Council on Monday approved three-year contract extensions for Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and for the city’s prosecutor’s union a full year before their existing labor contracts were set to expire.
The deal for Local 270, which was tentatively agreed to by Mayor Mary Verner, will freeze salary levels in 2013, 2014,and 2015. Retirement, medical and other benefits won’t change, nor will an already approved 5 percent raise for workers with at least 4 years of experience in 2012.
Supporters said a three-year freeze is unprecedented for a city union in recent memory and will provide the city significant stability when budgeting within utility departments, which are staffed mainly with Local 270 workers.
But Condon and three incoming members of the City Council, Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori, argued that the council was usurping the will of the voters. Condon campaigned, in part, on the need for the city to negotiate tougher with city unions.
“The four-year contract would limit the options of the new administration and council at a time when flexibility is needed,” said a memo signed by Condon, Allen, Fagan, Salvatori and Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin. “Locking in the work rules and benefit packages deprives both the workers and administration of a forum for discussing and resolving new challenges and opportunities.”
Local 270, whose members enjoyed annual 5 percent pay increases in all but one year from 2004 to 2009, backed Verner in the recent election. George McGrath, a local conservative radio talk show host, told the council that the deal appeared to be “payback” for its support in the election.
Most council members argued that they have a duty to represent the public until their terms end and that it’s not clear that the same terms will be on the table next year.
Council President Joe Shogan called the deal “phenomenal” and likened the proposal to delay a decision to refusing to accept “a truckload of gold.”
“This current council, myself included, is being paid by the public to do our jobs through December 31 of this year,” Shogan wrote in response to the letter. “I personally intend to fulfill my duties as Council President as obligated by that date.”
Councilman Steve Corker noted that the incoming mayor and council will have plenty of bargaining work ahead. Verner is unlikely to reach agreement with unions that have contracts set to expire at the end of the year, including Spokane Managerial and Professional Association, the Spokane Police Guild and the Spokane Firefighters Union. Corker said the current council and mayor have 46 years of experience in city government. Next year, the council and mayor will have 12 years experience in city government.
“When I was elected to office, I was elected to serve until Dec. 31, 2011,” Corker said. “I am going to make a decision that’s in the best interest of this city.”
Fagan and Salvatori testified in opposition to the contracts. They accused the current council of saddling them with a contract that doesn’t address “skyrocketing” health care costs and other benefits.
The public “voted for you to serve your term, not ours,” Salvatori said.
On the campaign trail, Condon talked about the need to bargain tougher, but he also suggested that he’d like to see raises to be based on inflation, which is about 3 percent currently.
“When we look at both the benefit side and on the pay side, I think what’s critical is ... that we look at other innovative ways of working with the employees,” Condon said at a debate that aired on KSPS. “In some municipalities they’ve linked cost-of-living adjustments to a CPI index to makes sure that both the employee and the employer know what it looks like going forward so there aren’t surprises and there aren’t arbitrary increases or decreases.”