City's library, public works employees win arbitration cases
By Crystal Lindell
of The Northwestern April 30, 2008
Two more city-employee unions — representing library and public works employees — have won contract arbitration cases with the city of Oshkosh.
Negotiations with five of six city-employee unions went to arbitration, with only the police officers union able to agree to a new contract.
The professional union representing City Hall Workers previously won its case and the firefighters and the para-professionals unions still are waiting for rulings. Contracts for all six unions expired in December 2006.
Bill Sitter, president of the AFSCME Local 796, which represents the public works employees, said the main reason the unions that went to arbitration was that the city proposed health insurance premium increases that, in combination with the proposed raises, would have meant less take-home pay for employees.
Because the contracts had to go to a state-sponsored arbitrator, they were winner-take-all and there was no further opportunity for compromises between the two parties.
"I would have much rather have settled this in house and sat down at a table and got it ironed out that way than to go to arbitration," he said.
Under the rulings, both the library employees and the public works employees had the same contract outcome, Sitter said.
The employees will get a 2 pay percent increase each January and a 1 percent increase each July for the entire length of the three-year contract The raises are retroactive to January 2007.
The city offered the union a 2.25 percent increase in 2007, a 2.75 percent increases in 2008 and 2009.
As for health insurance, the decided premiums will mean employees will pay an average of $265 less in premiums over the length of the contract.
City Manager John Fitzpatrick said the additional funding for the union employees who won their cases probably would come from the city's general fund.
Mayor Frank Tower said the city decided to go to arbitration with the other unions because they wouldn't accept the same deal that the police officers got and the city wanted to be fair.
Tower said he's not worried that the arbitration process will create rifts between the city and staff.
"I think ultimately … everyone realizes that at the end of the day you're here to make the city perform, but you sometimes you have to be in situations where you're on opposite sides of the table," he said.