Janesville police and firefighters are set to receive a 6 percent pay increase over the next two years, but union leaders say it isn’t enough to counteract increases in health insurance premium copays.
The Gazette requested copies of contracts for police, fire and transit employees—the city’s three unionized departments—after criticism of Janesville officials by police and fire union leaders. The copies, provided by the city, included revisions showing how the new and old contracts compare.
The police and fire departments will begin new three-year contracts starting in January. The transit system’s two-year deal began in January of this year and will expire at the end of 2019.
Much of the language in the latest contracts was unchanged compared to previous deals. Health insurance premium copays and wages saw the most substantial edits, and all three departments had the same plans.
The premium copays for a family plan rose from $165 per month in 2016 to $200 in 2019. Fire and police employees will see their monthly contributions increase to $235 per month by the end of their contracts in 2021.
The jump from paying $200 monthly in 2019 to $235 monthly in 2021 is a 17.5 percent increase. In that same period, fire and police employees will earn a 6 percent wage increase compared to their current rates.
Those wage increases are split into 1 percent increases in both January and July 2019, with 2 percent increases at the start of both 2020 and 2021.
The Gazette was unable to reach city officials for further comment on how the health insurance and wage pieces fit into the overall contract puzzle.
Deputy City Manager Ryan McCue previously told The Gazette the wage increase, despite being a smaller percentage change than surges in premium copays, will still outweigh higher health insurance payments.
Police and fire union leaders weren’t sure about that and said any increases in take-home pay will be negligible. The wage increases were also not sufficiently covering cost-of-living increases, they said.
Glen Hageman, president of the Janesville Professional Police Association, questioned the city’s spending priorities, saying the city has poured money into parks and roads rather than its workers.
“The city has to choose where it puts its money. Since (City Manager) Mark Freitag came in, he has chosen to not put his money in his employees,” he said. “That’s why he’s created this disconnect.”
Jason Daskam, president of Janesville Fire Fighters Local 580, said he believes state-imposed revenue restrictions have hindered municipalities and created tight budgets. But it still felt as if public safety was not a priority locally, he said.
In a previous interview, McCue told The Gazette that Janesville had recently hired additional firefighters and police officers after successfully lobbying for more state money to do so.
But Hageman and Daskam both said if the city truly cared about public safety, it would hire more firefighters and police officers so the departments’ staffing levels better aligned with those in its peer communities.