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Firefighters secure wage increases

Also agree to pay into retirement system

June 20, 2012

Oak Creek - Oak Creek firefighters will receive wage increases the next three years under a new contract negotiated with the city.

The Common Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance ratifying a three-year contract with the International Association of Firefighters Local 1848 union.

The contract includes wage increases of 3 percent in 2012 and 2013 and 2 percent in 2014.

In exchange, union employees have agreed to make Wisconsin Retirement System pension contributions of 3 percent in 2012 and 2.9 percent in 2013. Additionally, retirees and their spouses will no longer receive city health insurance benefits once they become age-eligible for Medicare, which will reduce the city's liability for other post-employment benefits by about $6 million to $7 million, City Administrator Gerald Peterson said.

"While we went ahead with some wage increases for the next three years, I think the big picture is the OPEB costs … that will be paid back tenfold," Alderman Tom Michalski said.

To help offset the burden of eliminating post-age 65 health insurance benefits, the city has agreed to pay certain affected employees 150 hours at a rate of $33.17 per hour over a two-year period, Peterson said, at a cost to the city of about $209,000.

The net additional cost to the city based on wage increases and pension contributions is about $70,000.

Rob Buikema, a labor attorney with Buelow Vetter who represents the city in labor negotiations, said one of the goals of the Personnel Committee was to achieve a contract consistent with those negotiated with other non-protective service employees.

"Obviously in light of Act 10, with the bargaining rights still intact for police and fire, that was achievable, but at a higher cost," he said.

He also noted that under Act 10, the city reserves the right to implement changes to the design of the health plan being offered to employees, if necessary.

The negotiation process involved a significant amount of give and take between the city and the union, he said.

Similarly, aldermen praised both parties on being able to reach an agreement.

"The dialogue was very intense at times to get this agreement done," Alderman Dan Bukiewicz said. "It showed a lot of give on both ends, and it's a good example of how parties within a city can work together to get voluntary agreements that are beneficial to both parties in the end."

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