After more than a year of negotiations, Bingen and the International Union of Operating Engineers reached an agreement regarding cost of living increases and insurance benefits.
At the Sept. 3 Bingen City Council meeting, members of the panel unanimously passed a collectively bargained agreement with the union, of which five city employees now belong. The agreement was also approved by members of the union.
Under the agreement, Bingen will pay 85 percent of the full cost of health insurance premiums for spouse and dependents for full-time employees and 80 percent for part-time employees through Dec. 31, 2014. On Jan. 1 2015, Bingen will begin paying 80 percent of the full cost of health insurance premiums for both full-time and part-time employees, according to the agreement.
The agreement also guarantees a 2.5 percent wage increase for those employees. In 2014, a 2.25 percent increase will be given and in 2015 it moves to a 2 percent increase.
Council Member Sandi Dickey, Mayor Betty Barnes, and City Administrator Jan Brending were actively involved during the negotiations, which began in spring of 2012. James Buckland, wastewater treatment plant operator, headed up negotiations on the union side.
Brending said that union negotiations tend to span long periods of time and that this was the first time Bingen has had to enter into a union agreement.
“I think they feel that this protects them. We didn’t have one before, just a personnel policy, and with a union contract they know what they’re getting for the next two and a half years and it won’t change and there won’t be any unexpected surprises from the council if there are budget concerns,” Brending said.
Buckland, who was a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers at a previous job, said his main objective during the negotiations was simple: “To be treated fairly.”
“We’re hoping that this will put us all on good footing,” Buckland said.
Along with Buckland, the four other employees that fall under the union agreement are Dena Riggleman, deputy clerk; David Spratt, public works superintendent; Jay Hicks, public works maintenance worker; and Tom Hons, wastewater treatment plant manager.
According to Buckland, previous dealings with the City of Bingen regarding insurance spurred him to contact the union and that while having scheduled pay raises is important, solidifying medical benefits was paramount throughout the negotiations.
“What we have now is the ability to at least negotiate and have representation and to be treated fairly,” Buckland said.
Barnes concurred with the fact that the choice of some employees to seek union support stemmed from Bingen beginning to require its employees to pay for a portion of insurance.
“It was in line with what other public employers in the state were doing and of course that becomes a shock for employees who have to look out for their families while we have to look out for the city’s best interest,” Barnes said on Wednesday.
After the council’s vote on the agreement on Tuesday, Barnes could only let out a sign of relief and ask “where is the champagne?”
“We did try to be as fair as possible and see things from the employees’ side, and once again I don’t believe any of us felt any animosity toward the employees for going this route, because if they don’t look after their best interests who is going to?” Barnes said.