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Tacoma: Union rejects City’s contract offer, raising specter of budget repercussions

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Nov. 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm with 45 Comments »
November 4, 2010 10:33 am

A key part of Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson’s 2011-12 budget proposal presented last month to the City Council hinged on a big assumption:

That, by the end of the year, the city would have ironed out contract agreements with its various employee bargaining units to resolve any outstanding pay restructuring issues and win labor’s agreement to across-the-board city wage freezes.


Anderson is relying on the savings from wage freezes, as well as eliminating 79 vacant city positions, to help him balance his $401 million budget — a spending plan some $40 million less than the one the council approved two years ago for the current biennium.

But that big budget “if” clearly had some council members worried from the get- go, when Anderson formally unveiled his plan.

“I’m concerned about the timing and whether we can count on those savings,” Councilman Jake Fey kvetched to Anderson at the time. “The budget is predicated on a lot of those assumptions.”

“We will proceed as fast as possible” with labor negotiations, Anderson assured him.

But with year’s end now fast approaching, it appears that at least one key union is nowhere near ratifying a new contract with the city.

In fact, Local 120 AFSCME – the union that represents more than 160 city technical workers – dismissed on Monday what the city called its “best and final offer.”

Now, John Ohlson, the union’s president, said Local 120 members are planning to rally next Tuesday at City Hall to call attention to what they’re blasting as the city’s unfair negotiating tactics (The local organized a similar protest at the municipal building during contract negotiations in 2006).

On Tuesday, Ohlson issued the press release below, clarifying later in the day that, despite the release’s claim that the union wouldn’t even dignify the city’s offer with a vote, its members did end up casting ballots on the offer, after all.

“The membership did unanimously reject the city’s offer on Monday night,” Ohlson told me late Tuesday.

City spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said today that city Human Resources officials familiar with the negotiations were not aware Local 120 had turned down the offer.

The contract proposal is meant to “bring (Local 120’s) contract to market,” McNair-Huff said, by implementing pay and classification adjustments based on the so-called “Class & Comp” study the city conducted in 2008 to examine prevailing market rates for city positions.

(While a number of city employees, including various non-represented workers and managers, already have received such Class & Comp adjustments — including some very generous ones at that — several bargaining units, including Local 120, have yet to come to agreement with the city on the issue. )

“The commitment that the City Council has made is that we will do whatever we can to bring the bargaining units to market first,” McNair-Huff explained.  “Then, we’ll re-open the wage freeze issue” to help balance the budget.

I’ve previously asked Anderson and his finance chief, Bob Biles, how the budget would be impacted if contract deals can’t be worked out in time. Both told me they’d have to look for savings and potential trims elsewhere, but didn’t specify what, if any thing, they had in mind as a contingency plan.

“To my knowledge, nothing has changed,” McNair-Huff told me today, when I asked if the city is now examining any budget-planning alternatives, should any labor negotiations prove unfruitful.

“We’re currently in negotiations with a number of the (bargaining) units, but nothing’s been finalized yet,” he added. “… (But) we’re continuing to make every effort to negotiate the wage freezes.”

In the meantime, Local 120 is now preparing to “go tell it to City Hall,” with a good, old fashioned picket in the works.  Here’s the union’s press release issued yesterday.

Local 120 City of Tacoma Unit Informational Picket Rally

Tuesday, November 9th @ 4:30 PM

Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street

Action on The City’s ‘Latest, Best and Final’ Offer

The members present at last night’s well-attended meeting were appalled at the city’s arrogance and failure to come to the table and bargain fairly, and after an informal poll, sent the message back to the city that “We won’t dignify the City’s offer with a vote”.

The next step is for our City of Tacoma Unit membership to get a fair contract is to get active!  We are planning an “Informational Picket” rally at the November 9th City Council meeting, where we will march around City Hall, carry protest signs, and descend on the Council Chambers to protest the unfair bargaining the City is engaging in.

Key talking points:

  • The City is bargaining unfairly – two ‘Last, Best and Final offers in a row, with no movement for seven months.
  • The City has committed a contract violation and Unfair Labor Practice by attempting to rescind previously agreed-to retro pay provisions in our current contract.
  • Use the same Milliman job matching report that was used for the Managers, as well as the rest of the City’s employees.
  • The City has ‘broken the promise’ made before and during Class & Comp study; we agreed to the first Milliman salary study, and are happy with that outcome, but the City chose instead to ‘fix the faulty data’ for us, instead of using the same ‘unmodified’ data used to set their own double digit wage increases.
  • The City has ‘gone back to the well‘ with Milliman two additional times during negotiations, in an effort to support their unfair wage proposals.
  • What should have been a simple ‘wage re-opener’, ended up being an attempt to completely delete an entire Article of our contract, and delete the entire Applied Rate system.
  • In ‘normal’ bargaining scenarios, the employer NEVER submits a “Last, Best and Final” offer as its FIRST comprehensive offer.
  • The City is denying the Business Analysts their basic contractual rights, such as overtime, longevity pay, standby pay and seniority.

Bring your own picket signs, posters or banners!  Handwritten signs are the most effective.

Leave a comment Comments → 45
  1. tree_guy says:

    “tell your supervisors how disgusted you are with the City attempting to drag these negotiations out for so long.”

    If wages and benefits are so good in other localities or in similar private sector organizations why don’t you do the city a favor and take one of those jobs? I’m pretty sure there are some unemployed people who would be happy to work for the city at current or even reduced wages. The greedy attitudes in today’s recession really don’t become you.

  2. yYou Want a wage then i think that you should wait until the people on Social Security gets one.
    i beleive that it is time to quit asking for more than can be put out for now.
    i also think that if you want the wage increase then maybe you should at what one of your friends gets laid off or maybe the city should keep you all on and then have half of you work 3 day work weeks (Mondy -Wed and Wed – Fri. and the other half work 3 days

  3. Wow where do I go to apply for a job with the city, they are paid more now than I get at my current job so a wage freeze would be fine with me!

  4. steilacoomtaxpayer says:

    Clearly the city manager does not have “negotiating” experience with west coast public employee unions. No surprise that the unions won’t even go to the table. Too, bad, too because the rest of the the county (non-gov’t types) is suffering a recession. Have a great time with this one.

  5. UnbiasedReporter says:

    Give half of them a big raise and lay-off the other half. Let them decide who gets to keep jobs.

  6. oldman4 says:

    Unbiased your partialy right. You need to lay off all of them and contract the jobs out. I am tired of winney public employees.

  7. possum1 says:

    While I am a Union member (not City) you have tor recognize that in this economy that retaining your employment is the primary objective, even if that means concessions to your employer !

    There will be zero to no sympathy from the public on this one !

    Believe that Eric Anderson should set the tone, and rescind that significant pay raise that he recently received !

  8. readingthelatest says:

    I am sick of hearing the *ditching from these unionized government employees. Be grateful for the employment- just ask the 10% of us who would be ecstatic to have a job again.

    I say the city should have a 365 day furlough for these employees. Then contract the positions at the rate rejected by the union for the duration.

    The election yesterday proved that our state, county, and city has no stomach for increased taxation. The city needs to take a corporate lesson- when they can’t pay the employees, the employees are released. We should not pay a single penny extra just to pay for the union’s sense of entitlement.

  9. wadsbrau says:

    The class and comp study was created so that the city employees would be paid the same amount as those in the same position in other cities make. In other words the positions market value. No more, no less. The union is not asking for a raise. The study was enacted by the city itself. All of the non represented employees have already had thier wages adjusted to the local market value. the local 120 members just want to be paid what other cities pay for the same position. But, remember this was not the Union’s idea. In other words they are paid less than the positions pay elsewhere. By a lot actually.

  10. demeter says:

    wadsbrau good luck getting any kind of a raise in this economy,there should be an alternate plan on replacing these people with outside contract people immediately

  11. surveyor1 says:

    Typical. While we in the private sector (that would be the people who pay the taxes that pay your union job salaries) are taking pay cuts in order to keep our companies afloat, the unions are complaining because they may have to accept a wage freeze (not cut, just freeze). Get a clue! If you don’t like it, get another job!

  12. tree_guy says:

    “The class and comp study was created so that the city employees would be paid the same amount as those in the same position in other cities make. In other words the positions market value. No more, no less” wadsbrau

    It doesn’t really matter what people in other places get paid. We can only fund positions at pay rates which make sense for Tacomans. The class and comp idea is a failed policy and should be rejected. The other unions which received raises based on class and comp should have their pay levels reduced accordingly.

  13. wadsbrau says:

    It’s already been figured into the next budget. Besides, exaclty how does the poor economy effect city government when they don’t sell or produce a product?

    surveyor1: did you read that bit that this wasnt the unions idea? Noone is complaining about the approaching wage freeze. they just want what the other 1000 city employees already got.

  14. wadsbrau says:

    tree_guy and others. Do you know how to read? last time I will tell you. the others that have recieved the market wage adjustments are non-union employees. they wont be getting exactly what everyone else gets but a percentage based on what makes sense for Tacomans.

    There is no explaining to those who do not wish to know the facts. You must have been the ones that bought in to the TV ad reotoric and lies that shot down the alcohol sales initiatives. Sheep I tell you, sheep. With that, re-read the article and read up all about the city’s Study. I’m out

  15. wadsbrau says:

    I forgot. The outside contract people you refer to, will be the ones who’s salaries are more than what these city employees get.

  16. newsfan says:

    here’s a question….did Eric Anderson take a wage freeze this year? No. But he expects other city employees to. It’s not about refusing to have wages frozen, it’s about the city refusing to even discuss it. Not even a “would you be willing to…” discussion was had. It was “Last, Best and ONLY offer”. That’s not a negotiation…that’s bully tactics!

  17. tree_guy says:

    boo hoo. there’s a perfect remedy for your “predicament”… QUIT Just go work at one of those “comparable” cities where the wages are so much better. Don’t be jealous just because some other city worker is overpaid more than you are.

  18. wadsbrau says:

    I couldn’t help it.

    tree_guy: Once more: It’s the city itself that is giving the market value to the workers not the workers demanding a raise. Which was already stated. If a worker were to quit and move somewhere else. The position would be filled by someone else and paid the same rate. Nice Logic!

  19. demeter says:

    wadsbrau you market value is exactly what we say it is no more, if you dont like it hit the road

  20. tree_guy says:

    The class and comp study authored by the city and in use for awhile is beginning to show it’s shortcomings. While it may be a good way to set wages in normal economic times, it doesn’t work in a recession. The key factor for Anderson and the city council to consider isn’t the arbitrary “worth” of an employee, but rather the fundamental economics of spending more than the city is taking in. You sound like a smart lady wadsbrau, even you can appreciate the problem.

  21. tree guy is right.

    Note to all union members: don’t let the city door hit you on the butt on your way to the next city…..

  22. Go2Work says:

    My union has said that they will do whatever they can to fight the proposed wage freeze. I’m just thankful to have a job. Please, freeze my wages so no one loses their jobs. Can’t we just be grateful to be employed?

  23. justin_yorbum says:

    What do the “city technical workers” you’re so eager to run out of town actually do? You probably have no idea because the News Tribune couldn’t be bothered to make it part of the article and yet you’re sure they’re over payed and lazy because you saw the word “union”.

  24. ilikebutter says:

    A few points:
    1) The City Manager has accepted a wage freeze. Also, he hasn’t gone to market, he has waited to increase his wage until all employees have went to market.
    2) The City has 26 unions. 20 have already gone to market, 6 are in negotiations. 1 of the 26 has rejected the contract.
    3) The class and comp wasn’t created by the City to pay similar to other cities. The wage survey is completed by a private company and is used for all sectors of the market place, including the private sector.
    4) The union members, who work for the City, also pay taxes. Please drop that line.
    5) The City isn’t spending more than it is taking in. State law requires the City budget to be balanced. City statute requires reserves of 10% of spending, therefore, on a 400 million dollar budget, 40 million in reserves would be required.

    All of this information is public and EASILY available on google. I understand the rhetoric is fun everyone, but c’mon, the majority of these posts are baseless.

  25. tree_guy says:

    “you’re sure they’re over payed (sp) and lazy because you saw the word “union”. justin

    Nobody said the technical workers were lazy. The issue raised in the story is this: Should a city which is broke be allowed to provide raises to some groups of employees and not to others? If the city payroll costs are too high then that means the employees are overpaid. It’s not a moral judgement on the workers, just an observation.

  26. tree_guy says:

    The union members, who work for the City, also pay taxes.

    Really, what taxes are those?

  27. ilikebutter says:


    Just because you work for a city or county or anywhere in the public sector does not mean you aren’t taxed.

    Public employees pay the exact same taxes as every other worker in Washington. Think about this….hard, it’s a tough concept to grasp, I know.

  28. There used to be a time when unions were needed. Todays unions have bankrupted many cities….been to Detroit lately? The powers that be in the unions make a career out of doing nothing but being greedy. In this day and time, these union members aren’t going to find any shoulders to cry on around here…..they should be glad to have a job that pays decent money. If they don’t like it, just move over because there are hundreds of people that will line up to take their job…….

  29. UnbiasedReporter says:

    “the local 120 members just want to be paid what other cities pay for the same position”

    This isn’t “other cities”. If they want the wages “other cities” pay, then let them move to the “other cities”.

  30. biggun253 says:

    As a city employee that is all too familiar with Local 120 and it’s lazy leadership, the City would be well positioned to force turn over. There are thousands of people that would gladly take Local 120’s technical jobs. Having been at the City, I’ve watched Local 120 resources fall asleep in meetings, ‘work from home,’ and utilize City resources to conduct union business while not producing a quality product.

    While this is not true of all Local 120 resources, the sense of entitlement is ridiculous and if the City’s leadership would quit accommodating and enforcing this type of behavior, the Citizens of our City would get a better product as a result.

    Local 120 better learn to speak fluent Punjabi because offshore resources are waiting in the wings.

  31. Go2Work says:

    Please remember that not all union members want to be part of the union. We are not given a choice. The union, regardless of what it says it’s doing, does not speak for all union members. Please do not lump us all into one group.

  32. tree_guy says:

    “Public employees pay the exact same taxes as every other worker in Washington. Think about this….hard, it’s a tough concept to grasp, I know.” like butter

    I thought you meant they pay some special taxes. What difference does it make that the employees pay taxes? Are you saying they have a moral right to pay increases because they also pay taxes? Sorry, I don’t see the connection.

  33. dirtydan54 says:

    Screw em dump their unions and hire off the street

  34. rockrabbit says:

    I’m very pro-union but against raises at this time. Give the city budget a break already.

  35. indolesrex says:

    Is there anyone else sick of democrats and unions, they are so repulsive to me and it just gets worse with time!

  36. dirtydan54 says:

    Hey Tim Eyeman, heres an idea for your next initiative, Put it to a vote to end unionization of all public employees in Washington State.

  37. robcruso says:

    Are you kidding me. These greedy union members want a raise while 20% of the population is out of work. Once the contract is up privatize these jobs and save the taxpayors money. You government employees have had it good to long and no one sympathizes with you.

  38. illbarry says:

    The problem is the writer of this story is not giving all the facts, and that is affecting all your opinions. Many City employees are enties upon themselves and are not even a part of the City budget and it does not in any way affect it. In other words the money that department brings in has its own budget, both to hire and service the city by demand. These departments such as Water works, Electrical and Linemen have contracts with the city they should honer a city wide wage freeze does affect these departments even though the moneys they bring in is not part of any general fund and does not at all affect the budget. If any of you wish to apply for one of these jobs the door is allways open to you, but my guess is if you had the expertise to do the job you would have already.

  39. reformedliberal says:

    The notion of wages being “brought to market” is pure double-talk. The market is what it is, and if the employees are working for a given wage, that’s what the market says their wage should be. This doesn’t change until they quit and go find jobs elsewhere doing the same work for a different amount money.

  40. ratujack says:


  41. TacomaGranny says:

    Where was all this outrage when the MANAGERS were taking double-digit raises?

    As usual the TNT has cherry-picked the facts. The managers were happy to take up to 18% raises, and the TNT (and the bloggers) didn’t see fit to vilify them. But when the same study recommended raises of half that much for the workers, the managers cut it in half and PAID taxpayer money for TWO MORE studies to justify their ends. The second study came back with same results as the first, so they tweaked the study parameters to justify the unjustifiable.

    If the TNT would spend half as much energy and time looking at the managers’ wages, they would find the real outrage.

  42. mchawkeye says:

    TREE_GUY is right, blame the unions, those greedy groups are to blame!
    Blame them for a forty hour workweek instead of being forced to work eighty hours or more. Blame them for overtime wages that we are paid. Blame them for medical benefits most of you enjoy. Blame them for vacation time that you are paid for. Blame them for fair work practices. Blame them for safe work places. The unions need to shoulder all of this blame and more, what are they thinking. Non union workers never had to fight for these benefits, all they have to do is just sit back and ride the coat tails of organized labor.

    TREE_GUY if you study hard for 3 or 4 years and learn to say “Do you want fries with that?”, you may one day get the job you’ve earned!

    Mean while all of you that hate the unions, just keep shopping at Walmart in your Chinese made spandex. It looks good on you.

  43. For those that are commenting on “you should be happy to have a job”, or that in this economy the local 120 shouldn’t even be talking about pay raises – why don’t you comment on the two Milliman studies that the City paid for (there were a total of 4 that they paid for that and the first should have been enough talk about fraud, waste and abuse of tax payers money) that they say as legit for their own pay raises below but not for the local 120. Tell me how on earth that makes sense?
    I for one would be not for a pay raise as long as that same management that is curtailing ours did the same for their own greed pockets. I can agree that in this economy it’s great to have a job – but the pay raises upper management took is just down right appalling.

    Love to hear you explain the below and hear your flawed logic of a discussion you have no idea about.

    Manager Raises from Class & Comp Salary Survey:

    Job Title – Old Wage – New Class & Comp Wage – Wage Increase

    Information Technology Supervisor – $43.78 – $48.87 – +11.63%

    Information Technology Manager – $51.23 – $57.49 – +12.23%

    IT Director, Asst – $59.16 – $69.88 – +18.13%

    IT Director – $83.80 – $91.66 – +9.38%

    Deputy City Manager, IT – $83.80 – $101.85 – +21.54%

    City Manager – $96.37 – $113.16 – +17.43%

  44. justin_yorbum says:

    Tacoma: City manager cashes in on $35,000 per year pay raise.

    “After symbolically forgoing a raise last year because of the recession, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson this week cashed in on a big pay hike due to him – almost $35,000 per year.”


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