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City, unions reach deal

Matthew Artz
Tuesday September 24, 2002

After months of negotiations, Berkeley has reached a tentative six-year contract with its four municipal labor unions representing 60 percent of the city’s work force, city and union leaders said Monday. 

When final, the 1,119 union members who range from secretaries to engineers will get 28.5 percent raises over six years – nearly as high as the 31.5 percent increase awarded to police officers last year. 

Getting parity with public safety employees was a main point of contention in contract negotiations that began in January. Their last contract expired July 6. Since then union workers have been under terms of their old contract. The new contract will be retroactive to the July expiration date. 

The deal ushers in an era of relative labor peace in Berkeley. With the police union signing a six-year deal, and the municipal unions now in fold, the city’s labor costs are nearly fixed through 2007. Only the firefighters’ contract, which expires in 2004, looms.  

Locking up long-term union contracts benefits the city, said Dave Hodgkins, a city employee relations officer. He said that with the labor costs fixed, city officials can more accurately forecast future budgets. 

The deal is expected to win official approval from union members and City Council next month. 

Two unions, Local 1245 of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents city electricians, and the Local 790 of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents clerical workers, have already ratified the agreement. 

The two other unions, Local 535 of SEIU, which represents social workers and planners, and Local One of the Public Employees Union, which represents professionals, will vote on the contract this week. 

Following union approval, City Council is expected to approve the contract. 

The contract provides for a cumulative 28.5 percent raise over six years. The workers will receive 6 percent in year one, 3.5 percent in year two, 5 percent in year three, 4 percent in year four and 5 percent in each of years five and six. 

Additionally, the city will maintain its policy of boosting salaries when workers with similar job descriptions in nearby communities earn more money. 

The new contract also enhances employee benefit packages. A new formula to calculate pension benefits will will result in a roughly 24 percent annual increase for workers 55 and older.  

To fund the pension increase, the city must increase the employee contribution to the program paid by all city workers from 7 percent to 8 percent. Because the pension provision will affect all city workers, not just employees in the four unions, it thus requires a separate vote by city employees. The vote is scheduled for next week. 

Union members say they are excited to put the negotiations behind them. 

“We’re very happy with the deal,” said Rick Chan, a shop Steward with the electrician’s union. “We feel we’re just as important as policemen and firefighters.”