TOWER— The city council here, in a special meeting held Monday, voted to approve a substantial revision to the city’s union contract. The new package, which came to the council with the …
TOWER— The city council here, in a special meeting held Monday, voted to approve a substantial revision to the city’s union contract. The new package, which came to the council with the recommendation of the bargaining committee, is more in line with labor agreements in other small cities around the area, according to city attorney Mitch Brunfelt, who took part in the negotiations.
The city’s current unionized workforce includes the deputy clerk and the city’s two full-time maintenance workers.
Brunfelt said the changes represent an improvement for the city’s workforce, which he argued is important given the current tight labor market. “It’s getting tougher and tougher,” said Brunfelt. “Overall, the world has changed in terms of the labor market. These are skilled workers, and it is very, very competitive,” he said.
Among the major changes to the agreement include a significant modification to the longevity pay provision, which had effectively substituted for health benefits in the previous contract and bore no apparent relationship to a worker’s longevity with the city. Brunfelt told the council that the new contract now comes with a more traditional health insurance package that isn’t tied to the unusual longevity pay provision.
The contract also eliminates a pay grid that had set out wages for years in advance for each employee. Brunfelt said that type of pay structure wasn’t unusual for teachers in school districts, where years of service and educational attainment both affect teacher pay through a rubric that includes steps and lanes. But Brunfelt said he hadn’t seen such a standardized grid in a small city before and noted that it reduced the city’s flexibility to adjust pay and benefits based on changing economic and budgetary conditions faced by the city. He said small public employers like the city typically set pay amounts on a 2-3 year basis depending on the length of the labor agreement. “This really simplifies and streamlines it,” he said.
The new pay schedule establishes hourly wages for 2022 at $24.91 for the deputy clerk, $24.64 for the maintenance foreman and $22 for the maintenance assistant. Those amounts will increase by two percent each year over the next two years.
In addition, the maintenance staff will receive an extra $4,500 in longevity pay under the contract, along with an extra $1,825 for on-call compensation for weekends and after-hours when they are subject to call-back for emergencies.
The deputy clerk is slated to receive an additional $7,000 annually for longevity pay.
Councilors generally favored the recommended contract, although council member Joe Morin expressed some reservations about the agreement and whether it was beneficial enough for city workers. He said he appreciated the work of the bargaining committee and opted to support the changes.
Just as the council was approving one union contract, it continued to delay action on a request for union representation from the city’s ambulance director, who submitted a request to join the AFSCME union nearly a year ago. The council held a closed session on Monday to discuss their negotiation strategy but took no action on a new agreement with the current director, Dena Suihkonen.
In other action, the council:
• Approved the low bid of $471,160.75 from Mesabi Bituminous for work on a new trailhead and parking lot on the East Two River, just north of Hwy. 169. The bid was about $57,000 higher than the engineer’s estimate, but clerk-treasurer Michael Schultz said the project has a $50,000 contingency budget, which could cover most of that shortfall. The included work will be funded by a $600,000 grant from the LCCMR. Additional work associated with the project, including improvements to extend Main Street to the new trailhead and other amenties, will be funded through a separate grant from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.
• Approved the expenditure of up to $16,000 for work associated with a joint road improvement project on N. Second Street, near St. Martin’s Catholic Church. Breitung Township and St. Martin’s are also contributing funding for the project.
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