After months of delay and a public dispute, the city has reached an agreement with the blue-collar public works union. City council members were presented the new agreement with the AFSCME Council 52, Local 2272 which runs from July 1st, 2014 through June 30th, 2019 on Tuesday evening.
The agreement increases the minimum salary of public works employees to $30,000 from the current $25,000 and gives employees 2-percent annual pay increases.
Union members will receive almost $1.1 million in salary increases during the course of the agreement; of that amount $548,216 is retroactive pay from 2014-2017, according to the city’s calculations.
The union has roughly 200 members, according to city records.
Much of the agreement was hammered between the city and the union back in July; however, some sticking points prevented a full agreement.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said the main sticking point was out-of-title pay. She said the city sought to include a clause that is contained in all other public works union agreements. Union members temporarily assigned to fill in for higher ranking job titles will either receive $1,500 “pro-rated on a daily basis” or 20-percent of the difference between his salary and that of the higher title whichever is greater. Full out-of-title pay kicks in after 20 days of working in the higher role, according to the contract.
Michael Jackson, the former president of the union, who worked with the city on the contract, said the city initially gave the impression it wanted to remove out-of-title pay entirely from the contract.
“That was stalking me personally,” said Michael Rodriguez, president of the union. He said there are few members of the union who fill in for higher titles. He’s one of those employees impacted by the out-of-title pay clause, he said.
“There were somethings in the contract that I wasn’t happy with,” said Rodriguez stating he disagreed with some provisions that were removed. One particular provision taken out of the contract was a requirement that called for a union representative on the weekend when some workers are called to do overtime work. “Now there isn’t any union rep. That’s the main thing that bothered me,” he said.
The delays in reaching an agreement put pressure on the union leadership to strike an accord. “The whole body wanted this agreement. They voted on it. They didn’t want to wait and hold on longer and longer,” said Rodriguez. “The body really wanted to settle the contract because they wanted their money.”
The Paterson Department of Public Works (DPW) workers are some of the lowest paid employees in the city and many are looking forward to their retroactive paychecks. Indeed, members of the union, some of whom shared the hardship of living on subsistence pay, implored mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration and the council strike a deal with the blue-collar union.
The city settled with all other public works unions in October. Local 2272 was the only one left out. Jackson filed a complaint with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Commissioners (PERC) over the delay. He alleged the city negotiated the contract in bad faith.
Pou at the time told Jackson the union can return to the table and work out an agreement. She said the state referred Jackson’s complaint to the city.
“They urged the city to talk to us. We were able to work it out,” said Jackson. The change in the union’s leadership did not have anything to do with the resolution of the contract dispute, said both Jackson and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he was vice-president when Jackson was president. Jackson was promoted to a supervisor post in December, according to city officials.
“I think the city won more than we did,” said Rodriguez when asked if the contract was a win-win deal for both sides.
The city council will vote on the contract on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017.