Labor unions to preserve health-care benefits in renegotiations with city

Ratification ballot goes out this week

Knowing that the city and county are hemorrhaging from employee furloughs, depleted resources and budgetary shortfalls that reach in the millions, labor unions were more than happy to meet with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in contract talks that may save funds, jobs and most certainly health-care benefits.
Chris Dugovich, president of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, said it was important that all 19 unions that are a part of the Coalition of Unions that have members working for the City of Seattle, be at the negotiation table when it came to health-care benefits.
Dugovich said he knew compromise on both sides was necessary, but he was glad that health-care benefits went unscathed and will not be addressed again until 2013.
"Health care is something that has to be worked out with everybody there," said Dugovich, who, among several other unions, represents 158 members of AFSCME Local 21, whose members work as radio dispatchers, janitors and truck drivers for the City of Seattle. "In order to get the best bang for the buck, you can't splinter; it has to come together as one."
Securing health care came at a price, though. About 6,000 city workers would see a 2-percent cost-of-living increase drop to a 0.6-percent increase beginning in January 2011 and extending to 2013. McGinn's camp estimates that alone will save the city $2.3 million out of its general fund for 2011 and $3.4 million in non-general funds.
Last Thursday, Sept. 9, McGinn announced the city's tentative agreement with the Coalition of City Unions to renegotiate details of existing contracts with the city, which is facing a budget shortfall of about $67 million in the general fund. In addition to the health-care compromise, the city and unions agreed to eliminate conditions through 2013 that prevented unions from filing grievances about outsourcing work.
The city has also suggested the creation of a systematic process to review management and employee suggestions to find cost savings through more efficient work processes. The mayor's 2011 proposed budget, which will be given to the Seattle City Council on Sept. 27, also suggests freezing any market-rate adjustment on employee cost-of-living adjustments. The budget will also roll back inflationary increases for non-personnel expenses that could save the city $1.1 million.
Dugovich said members of the unions that make up the coalition will vote in the next couple of weeks on whether to ratify the contract amendments. The proposal is only now being sent out to members. Just like a general or primary election, members will vote by mail.
"This year, it's all about saving jobs and positions, and with that we save services," Dugovich said.[[In-content Ad]]