MERIDEN — City officials shared differing perspectives this week on wage increases included in a new four-year labor contract with the city’s crossing guard and parking attendant union.
The agreement, unanimously approved by the City Council this week, increases general wages by 1.75 percent in the first two years and by 2 percent in the final two years. The annual increases will yield $30,000 in additional wage costs over the four-year deal, which is retroactive to July 1, 2018.
“Certainly, this is very generous when you’re seeing people get (1.75 percent and 2 percent) as far as a pay increase,” said City Councilor Bob Williams.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati responded by saying that while those raises may be rare in the private sector, they’re lower than those in labor contracts the council has historically approved.
“I would say a good job to HR and (the city administration) for negotiating something lower than we’ve typically seen,” Scarpati said.
City Manager Tim Coon said wage increases are the only major change in the contract. The union consists of about 28 full-time crossing guards, four part-time crossing guards, and six parking attendants.
Coon said the new contract does not prevent a plan he proposed earlier this year to eliminate the city’s six parking attendant positions and replace them with an automated “pay-by-plate” kiosk system at the municipal garage on Church Street and the city-owned lot on Butler Street. Coon estimates the new system will save the city about $110,000 annually. It will cost between $60,000 and $80,000 to install and will cost $6,000 annually to maintain.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the union, Local 3886 of Council #4 AFSCME, said Friday that the union wasn’t led to believe the layoffs would go through.
“That’s interesting (Coon’s) saying that,” Dorman said. “We’ve not been led to believe that that’s the case. We’ll wait to see what will happen and act accordingly.”
When the plan was announced in April, union president Linda Ceneviva told the Record-Journal the union planned to fight the automation switch over, calling it detrimental to downtown and the union employees. While the city budgets for about seven parking attendant positions each year, Ceneviva said only three of the positions have been filled for a number of years.
The general wage increases in the crossing guard and parking attendant contract are comparatively lower than increases included in agreements with some unions. The city’s four-year agreement with the police and public works unions include annual general wage increases as high as 2.25 percent. The increases, meanwhile, are on par with other contracts, including a four-year agreement with City Hall employees that raises wages between 1.75 percent and 2 percent each year.
In discussions over the years, some city councilors have objected to wage increases at or above 2 percent, and in some cases, the council has rejected tentative agreements that raise wages 2 percent or more and opted for arbitration. The council most recently rejected a tentative three-year agreement with the city’s supervisors union that would have raised wages 2 percent each year.
Coon said the city does not have a “magic number” when negotiating, adding that the city will “continue to be sensitive to wage increases.”
“It tends to be stuck in people’s minds because that’s pretty consistent with what other unions across the state get, but there’s no magic number,” Coon said about 2 percent increases.
The city is currently in arbitration over the supervisors contract, as well as a new contract for firefighters, Coon said.
Ceneviva said her union is content with the raises in the new contract. The city’s decision to go to arbitration over the 2 percent raises in the supervisors contract influenced the union’s negotiation strategy, she said.
“We knew if we tried to get anything over two, we weren’t going to get anything so we settled for the best that we got,” she said. Employees in the union don’t receive health or 401k benefits, she said.
Several other union contracts are set to expire at the end of the month, including agreements for the nurses, dispatchers and public works employees. Coon said the city’s Human Resources department is currently setting ground rules for those negotiations.