Council ends 2.5% health contribution for 2nd union

http://cpride@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 21, 2013 

— Los Banos Police Dispatchers/Community Services Officers Association is the latest union whose members are set to see bigger paychecks as the city agrees to resume a portion of its contribution to benefits packages.

On Monday the City Council voted to approve a new contract with the association. The move eliminates a 2.5 percent salary contribution to employees Cafeteria Plan for health, vision, dental and life insurance. The decline in salary contributions equates to $14,738 from the general fund and $857 from Measure P, a half cent sales tax passed in 2004 for public safety needs.

A similar deal was struck in July between the city's Fire Department and non-unionized workers, such as public works and the finance department.

"I'm pleased that the city decided to give back the 2.5 percent," Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove said. "It's a little bit. It's not everything they gave up, but it is a reflection that the economy is turning around."

In 2010, public safety employees conceded an 11.5 percent salary deduction, including a 9 percent pension contribution and a 2.5 percent increase in funds for health insurance.

Buoyed by indications of increased home building and higher sales tax projections, city officials believe now is the time to start easing the financial burden it asked its employees to carry after the housing market collapsed.

City Manager Steve Carrigan said the unions for police officers and police sergeants are the last two bargaining units that have not come to an agreement with the city. He said he expects a deal.

"We're getting closer and closer. Most of the issues left revolve around communication," he said.

The Dispatchers/Community Services Officers Association agreement includes the policy for calling off-duty workers back to the job being changed from four hours of pay to three hours. Potential changes in the dates when compensatory time can be cashed out and advance funding of training/travel expenses were also in the agreement.

"I'm happy to see them cross the finish line," Carrigan said of the dispatchers and community service officers, who he recently observed in action during a standoff situation involving a suicidal veteran. "We are always saying things are turning around, building is coming back. I can't wait for January when I can show them (the unions). By then, I hope to have solid numbers."

Carrigan stressed that the 2.5 percent deduction in salary contributions is not a raise, and the city is continuing its freeze on step increases. Carrigan said he believes having the ability to provide give-backs makes Los Banos unique.

"Other cities aren't doing this," he said. "(And) we had to be sure. The last thing we want is to give back 2.5 percent and say in a year we need that back."

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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