Two updated union contracts were approved without a hitch when the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday. The group gave the green light for the collective bargaining agreements for the unions representing Sitka’s firefighters and electrical workers.
The city has been negotiating since May with the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Sitka has struggled to recruit and retain electrical workers, particularly journeymen linemen. Legal counsel Kimberly Geariety said that problem is reflected across Alaska. Last year the assembly voted to raise wages for linemen, in agreement with the union, in the hopes of attracting more workers. The new contract takes a different approach, actually reducing wages in exchange for a larger employer contribution to the Alaska Electrical Pension Fund.
“This is a plan that affects all linemen in Alaska, and will provide a good package for recruitment, we believe, in Alaska, with still an above average wage from the norm in Alaska,” Geariety said. “So we felt really good about the package and the fact that the union is willing to work with us, and have some skin in the game.”
The agreement includes a 4.5% raise for some employees, but their Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) will be reduced to help cover pension costs. General Foreman, Line Foreman, and Journeyman Lineman positions will see a $4 per hour cut to their hourly rate to help fund the higher employer pension contribution.
The city has been negotiating with the firefighters’ union since last November. The new collective bargaining agreement includes an average salary increase of around 8.4% for employees. Some will see bigger increases and some will see smaller. The contract also includes bonuses for employees who earn advanced EMT certifications.
While both contracts will cost the city more money than the last collective bargaining agreements, it was all built into next year’s budget, which goes into effect on July 1. City administrator John Leach said coming into negotiations with a set budget made the process smoother.
“And as Kimberly says, a good negotiation means each party leaves a little bit uncomfortable. And I think we got that feeling out of out of all of these, but we we came to a good agreement fairly quickly,” Leach said.
The Assembly approved both collective bargaining agreements on unanimous, 5-0 votes.