City workers union urges officials to negotiate

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575636018753.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ”);

Local 1058 American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) members are unhappy with the city of Rockford’s stance on insurance issues. They voiced their frustration during a rally outside city hall Aug. 14, chanting: “Come on (Rockford Mayor) Larry (Morrissey), negotiate.”

“The city needs to understand we’re out here to show our solidarity,” Local 1058 President Greg Cassaro said.

According to Cassaro, the city hasn’t backed off from its November 2005 proposal. That proposal, Cassaro said, asks Local 1058 members to pay 20 percent of the premium. He said they currently pay no premium, and 20 percent of the premium equals a 250 percent increase for the employees.

Local 1058 countered with a proposal, which asked premiums be kept the same. The union later offered a proposal that asked members to pay 25 percent of their wages and a $900 premium per family, which translates into an 11 percent increase.

He said the union represents nearly 400 city workers, some who earn $22,000 annually. They include 911, police records, city hall clerical, public works department, city building department, Head Start and Rockford Housing Authority employees.

Morrissey said the average AFSCME worker earns $41,000 a year, but deferred to City Legal Director Patrick Hayes to offer more precise numbers.

Hayes said the average AFSCME worker earned $40,687 in 2005, more than the median individual income in the metro Rockford area of $36,000. He said AFSCME Unit B, including building and community standards inspectors, earned an average of $45,899 in 2005. Hayes noted those salaries exclude overtime.

While he said some AFSCME employees start at $22,000, they receive a 4 percent wage increase annually for the first eight years of employment, and that raise is in addition to any contractual increases.

Morrissey disagreed with the notion that the city has overlooked union members: “We certainly haven’t ignored them.” He stressed that he’s “trying to work with them to build a strong organization.”

He said the community has asked the city to be more fiscally responsible.

According to Morrissey, employees receiving plans with no deductible or premium is rare, and going a different direction is necessary: “This is not healthy for the organization.”

He said the city’s self-insured health plan costs a total of $17 million: “It’s a huge cost to our taxpayers. I feel I have a responsibility to make significant changes,” adding the private sector and other municipalities have made them already.

Cassaro said the city has given no explanation as to why it hasn’t offered a counterproposal.

Working without a contract since September of last year, the Rockford Police Department is also very dissatisfied with their negotiations with the city and has taken a vote on joining forces with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. Morrissey told the daily the merger would result in a pay cut for the officers.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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