The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 24, 2014

Union, city OK 4-year contract

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — Hermitage’s nonuniformed employees have a new four-year contract that gives them average pay hikes of 2.5 percent a year and the opportunity to live outside the city limits, while allowing administrators more flexibility in scheduling.

City commissioners approved the pact Wednesday and City Manager Gary P. Hinkson said he was informed the union had previously ratified the deal.

An attempt Wednesday night to reach union President Wayne Covert, who works in the water pollution control department, was unsuccessful.

The current deal with Local 2778 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ends April 30. The new contract will run through April 30, 2018, for about 40 employees, including clerical workers, employees of the street and water pollution control departments, technicians and inspectors.

Bargainers had been at the table since February, but Hinkson said there were times when it didn’t seem like progress was being made.

“It came together quickly at the end,” he said, adding that he believes the impending end of the current pact helped generate enthusiasm for reaching a deal.

“It was a typical bargaining agreement where no one got everything they wanted,” Hinkson said. “Everybody got something they wanted.”

In the first year, employees will get 1.5 percent pay hikes, plus cash payments of 1 percent of their base salaries. For the next three years, base salaries will go up by 2.5 percent.

Employees will be allowed to live within 10 miles of the city building, as long as they reside in Pennsylvania, a benefit previously won by the police union.

Also echoing the police contract, new hires will pay 1.5 percent of their salaries into a retiree health-care plan.

The similarities in benefits between the two unions is by design and has been particularly beneficial in addressing universal issues, such as health care, Hinkson said.

The police contract expires Dec. 31, 2015.

The AFSCME pact allows city officials to declare up to four shutdown days a year with notification of those dates occurring by Jan. 31. City offices will be closed and employees will be required to either take paid leave or not be paid, Hinkson said.

“They’re going to be used in specific situations,” Hinkson said of shutdown days.

This year, shutdown days will be Dec. 24 and 26, and are based on Christmas falling on a Thursday. Typically, not much business is conducted on those days and many employees would take them off anyway, Hinkson said. Other employees who would like to take the days off would be forced to work simply to have the city building staffed, he said.

Shutdown days do not affect departments with seven-day work schedules: police patrol and water pollution control plant employees.

In a related vein, the contract allows employees assigned to maintenance of buildings and grounds to be assigned flexible schedules from April 1 to Oct. 31.

That detail reflects the city’s expansion of its parks and play fields and plans for continued growth. The play fields complex on South Darby Road requires that someone open and close it, and officials expect a similar demand will follow when Stull Farm Community Environmental Park on Sample Road is developed.

“This gives us some flexibility if we have a weekend softball tournament,” Hinkson gave as an example. “We can shift someone’s schedule so we’re not paying overtime.”

The new AFSCME deal also:

• Eliminates separate paychecks for overtime.

• Allows unused vacation time to carry over until April 30 of the next year.

• Requires that the spouse of a new hire not participate in the city’s health care plan if the spouse’s employer offers health care.

• Sets employee health-care contributions at a maximum of $90 a month. The current cap is $80 a month.

• Sets 180-day eligibility waiting periods for vision and dental benefits.

• Ups the calendar dental benefit and lifetime orthodontics benefit to $1,500 each.

• Requires retirees to continue to pay health-care premiums at a rate not to exceed the rate at the date of their retirement for a single employee.

• Increases the number of sick days for employees hired after May 1, 2002, to six from five.

• Requires the city to make one-time purchases of winter safety jackets for employees eligible for the safety shoe allowance at a cost not to exceed $250 a jacket.