Vancouver, biggest union reach 4-year deal

No base wage, cost-of-living raises; workers to pay more for health care

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver struck a four-year deal Monday night with its largest union that will put employees in charge of paying for any health care premium increases above 5 percent.

The city council approved a contract with the 183 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union — which make up 19 percent of Vancouver’s 961-person workforce.

City councilors praised the agreement Monday before unanimously approving the contract. Vancouver is looking to rein in health care and salary costs, as it continues negotiations with all of its unions except fire and now AFSCME.

“This agreement is consistent with the trend that we’re looking at for finding mutually agreeable negotiations with the labor,” Councilor Jeanne Stewart said.

Workers will get no base wage increase this year, but full-time employees will receive a one-time $1,300 payment. This will mark the third year without a base wage increase for AFSCME employees.

In 2012 and 2013, workers will get a 1.5 percent base wage increase, followed by a 2 percent wage increase in 2014. However, the contract does away entirely with cost-of-living raises, a move many critics have called for.

“These are employees who have held off on raises for a long time,” city spokeswoman Barbara Ayers said.

On the health care side, starting on Jan. 1, 2012, AFSCME workers will have the choice between a low-cost health care plan, or a 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, AFSCME agreed to pay any premium costs that go over 5 percent — likely halving the city’s costs. Health care costs are projected to grow in the double digits over the next decade.

“That’s a really huge portion (of the contract), controlling those costs,” Ayers said.

The last contract expired Dec. 31, 2010. AFSCME represents recreation workers; street, sewer and stormwater maintenance; traffic signal technicians; water plant operators and legal clerical staff. Their average 2009 pay (before 37 recreation workers joined the union) was $51,524.

The deal, particularly keeping the city’s health care cost increases at no higher than 5 percent, mirrors much of the contract Vancouver hit on with its firefighters union in August.

The IAFF Local 452 settled on a four-year contract that includes no cost-of-living raises for two years, followed by a 3.7 percent increase and then a 2 percent raise. It also took no cost-of-living increase in its 2009 bargaining agreement.

The city will pay what it currently contributes for health care — $1,321 a month per employee — into a trust that will be managed by the firefighters union, which will then contract out its own health care services. The contract shows the city will increase that contribution by 5 percent in 2012 and 2013.

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