City inks deals with 2 more employee groups

Agreements include modest pay increases, higher health insurance premiums

By John Branton and Andrea Damewood

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Two more employee groups have new pay agreements with the city of Vancouver.

The Vancouver City Council on Monday night agreed to modest raises, but also cut the city's projected cost of health care benefits by half, in contracts with its Joint Labor Coalition and its management and non-represented employees.

The agreements, which are similar to deals the city’s struck with several other unions recently, are significant in helping bring the city’s costs in line with tax revenues, City Manager Eric Holmes said.

“These are all fundamental shifts in the way we compensate our workforce, which is our single largest cost,” Holmes said last week. “It puts us on a more fiscally sustainable trajectory.”

The city’s management and non-union workers will get a 1.5 percent base wage increase beginning next year, said Barbara Ayers, city spokeswoman. Those workers, who make up about one-quarter of the city’s 961-person labor force, have not seen a pay raise since 2009, Ayers said.

The about 45 Joint Labor Coalition members will get a 1.5 percent raise next year and another in 2013, followed by a 2 percent wage increase in 2014. The contract does away entirely with cost-of-living raises. They also will receive a one-time payment of $1,300 before the end of the year. In 2013, they will be eligible for a one-time payment of 2 percent, based on performance.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2012, both groups will have the choice between a low-cost health care plan, or a higher-cost low-deductible plan. Those who choose the low-deductible plan will have to pay 15 percent of the premium cost for their dependents, meaning they will pay more for the better benefits.

Starting in 2013, the workers will pay any premium increases larger than 5 percent — likely halving the city’s costs. Health care costs are projected to grow anywhere from 10 to 14 percent, Holmes said.

“When you look at the total cost of health care, that pace of growth becomes one of our primary cost drivers,” he said.

The Joint Labor Coalition includes Teamsters, plumbers and steamfitters, and machinists. It covers such positions as grounds workers, building inspectors, code

enforcement and plan review. Their average 2010 salary was $51,235.

Management employees include department managers, department directors and the city manager. The average salary for that group was about $100,000. Non-union workers‘ average salary was $61,827.

Monday’s agreements are nearly identical to one the city drafted last month with its largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. A four-year contract with the city’s firefighters union also included low-percentage raises and halved health care costs.

Holmes said he hopes to see similar contracts with its remaining employee unions.

Contracts remain open with: The 172-member police guild; 131-member Office and Professional Employees Union; eight police command union members; six fire command union members; and six fire marshals.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall