HAGERSTOWN —After several years of frozen wages, 135 full-time, nonunion city employees will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the upcoming fiscal year thanks to a 3-1 vote Tuesday night by the Hagerstown City Council.
The total cost of the COLA will be $220,500, the majority of which will be absorbed by the general fund, according to city documents.
“I feel that every employee needs to be equal, this again creates tension ... and it’s a jump-start, I just believe that all of this should gel, and it’s not going to happen that way,” Nigh said.
“You could turn that around and say that the union negotiating teams are holding the nonunion employees hostage if they do not come to an agreement that the (nonunion employees) are being penalized for the situation with the unions,” Councilman Martin E. Brubaker argued.
Councilman Lewis C. Metzner was absent from Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall.
Hagerstown officials last week extended the city’s existing contract for six months with 329 union city workers represented by four collective-bargaining units, including the Hagerstown Police Department, the Hagerstown Fire Department, the Hagerstown Light Department and the city’s Division of Public Works.
“We have approved an extension, but I think it really behooves the employee groups to bargain in good faith with a realistic picture of the city’s finances. ... You can’t really argue with the facts, numbers don’t lie, the budget is what it is, the forecasts are what they are,” said Mayor David S. Gysberts, who noted he is a union member in the Montgomery County (Md.) school district.
The unions’ current labor contract would have expired June 30. The extension gives the negotiating teams time to flesh out new contracts, according to previous reports in The Herald-Mail.
Gysberts said he believe the approved COLA for nonunion employees will cause tension within the union ranks, but not between the two employee groups.
“The failure to get a negotiated agreement by the end of this month means that the 2 percent COLA that we had on the table for all employees is now only going to be going to a part of the employees,” Gysberts said.
City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the 2 percent COLA for all employees remains in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Union members last week expressed dissatisfaction with the several-year freeze on COLAs and step increases.
“This idea that all steps are going to be restored in one year is completely unrealistic and it is not negotiable,” Gysberts said.
Step increased effect only 49 percent of the city’s employees, according to Gysberts.
“I think the union should consider all of their own members when they go to the negotiating table because it is important that we treat everybody as equally as possible under the terms of the agreements,” Gysberts said.
By the conclusion of the current fiscal year on June 30, four years will have passed since city employees have received a COLA and three years since step-increase adjustments, according to a March 5 memorandum from Michelle Burker, the city’s director of finance, and Zimmerman.
Though it was approved by a 3-1 vote, Nigh also cast the dissenting vote against approving the $1.2 million “first third” grant program, the commercial redevelopment portion of the larger-scale grant program Invest Hagerstown, saying those funds, which will be drawn from the general fund reserves, could be used toward making employee steps “whole.”
According to an email from city officials, the cost of making steps “whole,” or bringing the salaries of all city workers up to the terms set out in their current contracts, would be $1,273,000, which would be the salaries prior to the pay freezes.
For a 2 percent COLA, the makeup amount would be $603,000.
City employees, union and nonunion, last received a COLA in fiscal 2008-09, Zimmerman said.
The city extended one-time payments of $1,000 for full-timers and $200 for part-timers during the current fiscal year.
The estimated cost of the $1,000 payments for 411 full-time employees was $442,443, and $8,397 for $200 payments to 39 part-timers.
Employees received the one-time bonus this month.
The city previously extended a $1,000 payment to full-time regular employees during fiscal 2011-12 totaling $448,000.