BRATTLEBORO >> Collective bargaining agreements inked between the town and unions representing town employees received a favorable reception at Tuesday night's Select Board meeting.
Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said the town "tried to harmonize" agreements with the three unions and it looked at working conditions, benefits, wages, protection of the town, taxpayers' ability to pay and ensuring employees were being fairly compensated.
"We have worked through the pay scales for employees in a manner that makes us much more competitive," he said. "We're pleased to be able to present these contracts."
Health insurance adjustments are expected to save the town between $50,000 and $150,000, according to Town Manager Peter Elwell. The final figure will depend on the "claims experience" in any of the three years, Elwell said. Changes in health insurance went into effect on April 1.
The other big savings for the town has to do with revisions to retirement plans, which will see the town's contribution go down from as high as 8.9 percent of an employee's salary to 5.5 percent. And the benefit, Elwell said, is an improvement for employees.
"Converting the civilian employees of the town from a defined contribution to a defined benefit pension plan administered by the state will provide a savings to the town estimated to exceed $300,000," he said. "This is a real example of a win-win. We were able to rally around the employees."
Collective bargaining conversations began with the idea that 2 percent increases "felt right," Elwell said. After the recession in 2008, employees had been given minimal or no raises in some years. Non-union employees will be receiving 2 percent increases in salary starting July 1.
Also considered were circumstances and departments needing special attention, Elwell said. Those issues had to do with either internal equity or external competitiveness.
The town's agreement with the New England Police Benevolent Association Local 412 will last half a year longer than the agreements reached with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 98 and United Steelworkers Local 944. The goal was to align future agreements between the three unions, according to Elwell.
Two percent increases in the first two years will go to employees in the Department of Public Works and the Parks and Recreation Department who are represented in the steelworkers union. Then a 3 percent raise will be initiated in the third year.
"The salary scales for this particular union have lagged behind some of the others in prior agreements," Elwell explained. "There's a comparable situation for the clerical employees of the town and some professional employees. There was a particular benefit that they wanted to enhance and make more widely applicable to members of the union. We worked with them to do that and identified the cost of that and modified the 2, 2 and 2 percent increases to be 1.5, 1.5 and 2."
The administrative employee's "longevity pay" benefit, described by Elwell as an amount of compensation offered to employees based on how long they have served the town, will also be given to non-union employees performing similar tasks. By providing the benefit to non-union employees, the extra expense will run the town less than $1,000 more each year.
Restructuring of the police pay scale was more complicated. The plan is to offer more competitive salaries to encourage retention.
Starting pay for officers in the police department will go from annual wages in the upper $30,000 range to the low $40,000 range.
"A portion of that cost was also absorbed by the union and the employees of the PBA by accepting 1 percent annual pay increases," said Elwell. "The total cost of the various compensation items and other provisions of these agreements will increase the expenses for these items in the town's budget in 2019. Our costs will be approximately $40,000 higher than they are today."
But with the health insurance and retirement benefit changes coming in the fall, Elwell said the town will be saving about $400,000 a year.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.