I was disappointed to see the letter from Thomas Kosek, the staff representative for the AFSCME union.
Mr. Kosek: In the contract, the union shares the obligation to "promote mutual respect;" how did you advance this obligation in your letter to the Advertiser-Tribune of July 7?
With the city losing $1 million from state funding cuts, it is my obligation to the residents of this city to review all city services and contracts to insure we maintain a high level of service for our community while treating our employees fairly across the board. During negotiations, the contracts were changed to increase the insurance deductible along with increasing the employee insurance contributions to 15 percent, 17.5 percent and 20 percent, phased in over three years.
A lower deductible "buy-up plan" was available with the employee paying the increased premium. A "buy-up" insurance option has existed in the contracts since 2006. Despite the fact the majority of our city fire, police and dispatchers union had agreed to the same contract language changes, the AFSCME union decided to take our final contract offer to fact finding.
The fact finders report stated: "The Fact-finder finds the City's positions to be reasonable, compelling, and in the best interests of the public and the City, and finds them fair to the members of this bargaining unit as well."
He went on to add that the employee contribution percentage the other unions had agreed to pay is fair and should be included in the AFSCME contract.
The important portion one should take away from this is that the fact finder continued to point out the AFSCME union should be treated the same as the rest of the city's employees.
The AFSCME union voted 17-4 to accept the fact finder's report. The certification of voting the city received stated, "I declare I have read the contents of this Employee Organization Certification of Fact-Finding Vote and that the statements it contains are true and correct to the best of my knowledge or belief."
Sadly, even though AFSCME voted overwhelmingly to accept the fact finder's report, they refused to sign the contract - and have failed to give any justifiable reason why. Yes, I am confused as to why AFSCME has not signed the contract all other city department unions have agreed upon and signed.
The union filed a grievance against opening the pool. It was resolved after a number of hours of work completed by the city administrator. This grievance came due to AFSCME being upset with Parks Director Steve Dryfuse preparing our pool therefore, the AFSCME union did attempt to prevent the pool from opening.
When I stated "I am confused" in the council meeting, it was directed toward AFSCME's poorly written and horribly misspelled written grievance. Not to mention that it was well over a month late and past the deadline to file.
The AFSCME union filed its latest grievance nearly three months after voting to accept the contract. It was more than a month past the filing deadline to file a grievance on the insurance. In the grievance, AFSCME union members stated they feel they should not be paying additional insurance premium beyond the stated percentage premium rates - even when they purchased the "buy-up plan."
The issue presented to the fact finder was the percentage of employee contributions to the basic plan. Eliminating the increased employee cost of the buy-up plan was not an issue discussed during fact finding. Keep in mind, the fact finder specifically mentioned he felt AFSCME union members should be treated the same as all other city unions (which already are paying the extra rate for the "buy-up plan").
To me, it is confusing that a grievance was filed on contract language that was not an issue during fact finding and was overwhelmingly approved by a majority of union members.
At a time when we are struggling to maintain city services with a shrinking budget, the added cost of this grievance is unjustifiable. Not only is the city dealing with direct cost in legal expenses, but also the loss of productivity by the administration and public works departments while handling the grievance. We have no choice but to spend taxpayer dollars to fight the grievance. Granting AFSCME's grievance would be devastating to the city's budget and fiscal health. It also would cause the city to be forced to cover more than just the increased cost of the addition premium employees pay for the buy-up plan.
The grievance would mean a new open enrollment period, an increase in premiums and, most importantly, an increase in insurance rates to all city employees and a possible loss of insurance to city employees entirely. This would result in significant budget cuts and loss of services to our citizens, which is something I am not willing to sacrifice.
The fact finder made clear in his decision March 12 all union employees should be treated equally. I will continue to work with the city's four unions to ensure all employees are treated equally. I thank the fire, police and dispatcher unions for their willingness to sacrifice for the better of the city and its residents. I only wish I, the rest of the administration and City Council could understand why AFSCME feels as though it should be elevated to a higher platform than other city unions and receive different rates for its insurance.
I will continue to use my experience as an executive in private industry to continue reviewing city services, the budget and contracts to ensure our citizens get the most efficient and fair city government while treating city employees fairly across the board.
Aaron Montz is mayor of Tiffin.