Negotiations between Janesville, unions begin
JANESVILLE The city of Janesville has asked firefighters and police officers to begin contributing to their pensions in a recent exchange of initial contract proposals.
In addition, the city proposes no pay increases the first two years of three-year contracts and a “fair and equitable wage increase” in 2015.
It also proposes increases in employee health insurance co-payments.
Firefighters and police officers can negotiate the entirety of their contracts. They are not covered by Wisconsin Act 10, which sharply curtailed the collective bargaining rights of other public employees, who can negotiate only salary.
Transit workers were exempted from Act 10 because the city could lose federal transportation subsidies if the city does not follow federal labor rules to bargain with employees.
The only other unionized group of city workers—public works employees—would negotiate with the city for salary alone because they retained their union and recertified under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The future of Act 10 has been in question since a Dane County judge struck down portions of it Sept. 14.
City Manager Eric Levitt said opening proposals are intentionally broad because sides cannot add bargaining points later, he said.
Asking police officers and firefighters to contribute to their pensions is part of the city’s proposal because other city employees are doing so, Levitt said. Those employees are taking home 5 1/2 percent less even though they are working the same hours as they were before they were forced to contribute to their pensions, he said.
“My only point to that is that people say (public) employees should share in the pain (considering) the economy,” Levitt said. “That is occurring.”
Pension payments are part of negotiations around the state, he said.
The expectation nationwide is that public employees will begin paying into their pensions, Levitt said.
“It think that’s a reasonable expectation,” he said.
The firefighters proposal includes requests to discuss articles in their contract that relate to pay and benefits, such as holiday time.
The Gazette was not able to reach Capt. Matt Simpson, president of the Firefighters Local No. 580, for comment.
The city is asking firefighters for more flexibility in scheduling to reduce overtime. Now, for example, premium pay is sometimes added when firefighters are asked to work different shifts.
Levitt expects to reach agreements with firefighters and police officers by the end of the year. The city has not yet met with transit workers or public works employees.
Officer Scott Wasemiller, president of the Janesville Professional Police Association, said he doesn’t expect negotiations to become contentious. The group has not yet offered its own proposal.
“When you got reduced shared revenue, and you got a property tax freeze, income is limited,” Wasemiller said. “We understand that. Nobody in our department is looking to burden the city.”
Wasemiller said wages and insurance always are major issues, and benefits this year also will be an issue.
Some police unions in the state have agreed to pay into their pensions if the payment is offset by increased pay, he said. Others have chosen to continue with no contract changes.
The city has said whether police offices pay into their retirement accounts could affect the size of their health insurance premiums, Wasemiller said.
“We’ll come back with a fair counteroffer, basically, and continue negotiations,” he said.
Negotiations have always worked well and been open and honest, Wasemiller said. The police in the past have delayed a negotiated salary increase to help the city through tough times.
“I foresee an agreement without long negotiations,” he said.