Annie Z. Yu, The Republic | azcentral.com
Peoria officials and the city's largest workers' union have finally agreed to a new contract after contentious negotiations last year came to an impasse and prompted the city to force work rules upon the group and revise the city code for a smoother negotiations process.
The contract establishes wages, hours and conditions of work for the more than 400 members of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents non-public safety city employees.
The new contract, approved by City Council Dec. 9, covers a three-year period from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018 and grants merit-based pay increases of 4 , 2.5 and 2.5 percent. It awards one-time payments of $1,500, $1,700 and $2,080 for those at the maximum pay range and increases hourly pay by $0.50 and $1.00.
The three-year MOU will cost the city $1.26 million in ongoing costs and more than $1 million in one-time costs.
"(It's) a little generous in today's environment, but good workers here and I think it's fair," Vice Mayor Ron Aames said at the Dec. 9 council meeting.
The previous AFSCME contract expired July 1, 2013 but negotiations had come to an impasse. It was the first time in Peoria that an AFSCME contract expired before the next contract had been finalized, AFSCME local president Walter Crenshaw said.
So the city enforced work rules and gave AFSCME members the same deal it gave to non-union employees: a 3.5 percent pay raise and an $850 payment to those at the top of their pay range.
"It went so bad. It went so sideways in the negotiation process," said Crenshaw, who works as a meter technician.
As a result, this year the city formed a task force to study how to improve the negotiations process. It implemented changes such as changing city code to create specific deadlines for key phases, limiting negotiating team sizes and assigning a labor-relations specialist to lead all negotiations.
Other changes included creating a joint presentation to council with both management and union leaders to increase access to council and adding a labor-relations section to the city's human-resources website to keep union members informed of negotiation updates.
"That was the most important thing, that people just weren't aware of where we were (in the process)," Crenshaw said.
Contracts for all four of Peoria's bargaining groups expired last year. Negotiations with the City of Peoria Police Supervisors Association went smoothly while the Peoria Police Officers Association and the Peoria Firefighters Association reached impasses with the city land opted for mediation before reaching agreement.
AFSCME, the last group, last year refused negotiation, prompting the city to impose the work rules and pay increases after their contract expired.
Going forward, City Council will work to keep expiration dates staggered to avoid negotiation with all four groups at the same time, Ayers said.
"Two at a time is manageable. It's still tough, but manageable," Ayers said.
Negotiations are ongoing once again with the Peoria Firefighters Association, as their current two-year contracts expire June 30, 2015.