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New Fire Union Contract Reached With Pension Concessions

Two of the city's other four unions also are agreeing to start making pension contributions in exchange for wage increases, which also would be given to non-represented staff.

Exempt from the state's Act 10 and still able to collectively bargain, the city's fire fighters union has reached a new three-year contract with wage increases and pension concessions.

The existing fire union contract expires Dec. 31, and under the proposed new agreement, firefighters will start making pension contributions next month — something the city's non-union-represented employees have been doing since August.

Meanwhile, two of the city's other four unions also have agreed to make pension contributions in exchange for wage increases and leaving intact the rest of their existing contracts until they expire Dec. 31, 2014. The public works and library unions agreed; the police and police clerical unions have not.

If the Common Council approves the changes at its 7:45 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, police personnel will be the only city employees not contributing 5.9 percent of their paychecks toward their pensions.

Globally, the contract changes and pension payments, including from non-union-represented staff, will result in a $750,000 savings in salary and benefits, said Jim Zwerlein, Brookfield's human resources director.

"We're roughly $750,000 better off as a result in 2012," Zwerlein said.

Unions Praised for Concessions

"It's just very positive and gratifying to associate with employees and union leaders who recognize what's in everyone's best interest," Zwerlein said. "(They) understand what all municipalities are up against in regards to cutting costs and preserving services."

Attorney Timothy Hawks, representing the Brookfield Professional Firefighters Association, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The city would add some costs in exchange for getting the pension savings.

The new fire contract, ratified by firefighters and recommended for approval by the city's Human Resources and Public Safety Committee, also would:

  • Increase wages by 1.25 percent twice a year (January and July) in each of the contract's three years.
  • Make no changes to the employee share of health insurance premiums (15 percent or, with participation in the city's wellness program, 10 percent). But the city now has authority under the state biennial budget to change the health plan designs, such as copays and deductibles.
  • Increase the sick leave benefit for those who retire before the contract expires. Five employees are eligible for retirement in that time frame, and if they depart they would earn approximately $4,000 each extra, according to the city's Human Resources department.
  • Reduce the sick leave benefit and eliminate certain retiree health benefits for new hires. 
  • Implement a more aggressive pay-as-you-go funding of future retiree health costs. In addition to budgeting money annually for OPEB costs, the city would set aside $15 per pay period for each fire employee in 2012, $30 per pay period in 2013 and $100 per pay period in 2014.

Fire fighters were able to negotiate the contract because they were exempted from Act 10, which eliminated public employee collective bargaining except for wages capped by CPI.

In 2015 and beyond, if the city's public works, library and police clerical unions choose to vote to recertify, they will only be able to bargain for capped wage increases. But the police and fire unions will be able to continue negotiating full contracts detailing wages, benefits and working conditions.

City Would Increase Pay

Even though the public works and library unions have contracts through Dec. 31, 2014 that do not require them to make pension payments, they agreed to start contributing on their Jan. 13, 2012 paychecks in exchange for:

  • Increasing wages by 2.5 percent in January 2012 instead of 1.25 percent wage increases each in January and July. That increases salary costs by less than 1 percent, while the city saves 5.9 percent in pension contributions, Zwerlein said.
  • The city will not seek to invalidate the "successor contracts," approved in 2010 for the years 2013 and 2014, even though those contracts do not start until after Act 10 was enacted.

The city sought to reopen the contracts to gain the pension concessions, by using Act 65 which gave local governments and unions a 90-day window to be able to change existing contracts to reduce salary and benefits costs (including pension benefits) without triggering any other impacts of Act 10 and keeping the rest of union contracts intact.

That 90-day window expires in February. Zwerlein said he did not know if the police or police clerical unions would agree to reopen their contracts during that window.

Finally, Zwerlein and the council's Human Resources committee are recommending that non-union represented employees — department heads, managers and other City Hall staff — receive slightly better wage increases in exchange for being the only ones to contribute to their pensions in 2011.

They would get a 2.5 percent wage increase in January 2012. That single 2.5 percent raise for 2012 replaces the previous combination of a 1 percent increase in January and merit adjustment in July that averaged about 1.7 percent.

That will cost the city an additional less than 1 percent of total non-represented employee pay, whch Zwerlein said "pales in comparison to the 5.9 percent (pension) savings."

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