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Issue date: August 18, 2000

Union, city negotiations stall again Union, city negotiations stall again (August 18, 2000)

Health package, other issues are stumbling blocks

By Jaime Bloss

Contract negotiations between the City of Mountain View and the union have deadlocked again, union and city officials said this week.

The city's latest offer, presented Aug. 9, has been labeled "unacceptable" by officials from Service Employees International Union officials.

Olivia Lin, work-site organizer for the SEIU's Local 715, said the union opted to end the talks and study what direction they want to go.

Representatives from both sides, who spoke at length with the Voice, say they diverge on several issues, including health insurance and compensatory time.

On health insurance, the city hopes to add charges for workers who subscribe to non-HMO health plans.

According to the Kathy Farrar, employee services director, the city wants employees to pay a higher portion of the premium if they choose to participate in the non-HMO. The city would like to encourage employees to participate in the lower-cost HMO program. Under the current formula, the HMO plan for a family costs about $520 per month, compared to about $860 per month for the non-HMO.

Employees pay either $30 for HMO coverage or $55 for non-HMO coverage; the city pays the rest.

Under the city's proposed plan, there would be little variation in the payment an HMO user would make, but the non-HMO user's costs would rise to around $130 per month.

"We want to be able to offer a non-HMO plan, but we want people to migrate toward the HMO," Farrar said.

Although the city wants employees to pay more for insurance, it is offering raises as well.

"There have been generous wage proposals over a three-year period that offsets what we're trying to do in the area of medical (coverage)," Farrar said. "We're trying to make the proposals fair and reasonable."

Mayor Rosemary Stasek said that the city's salary proposal is a half percent higher than the union's.

Lin had no comment on the salary proposal. "That's not something the team has agreed to discuss in the press," she said.

The city's proposed revisions in the health care package are exactly the same as those accepted by the police department a few months ago, in their negotiations, Stasek said.

Another sticking point in the negotiations is the policy of agency shop. Right now, workers receive benefits that the union has obtained, even if they do not belong to the union. Agency shop would mean that all workers would pay a "fair share," but would not have to join the union.

The city opposes the agency shop. "We believe in freedom of choice for our employees," Farrar said. "We're not willing to take away that freedom of choice ... money would automatically be taken out of their (employees) paychecks without their consent."

Compensatory time is another unresolved issue. The city wants to pay workers for accrued compensatory time at the end of the year, instead of allowing time to roll over into the next year.

According to Lin, the real problem is that certain departments are understaffed and become hard to cover when an absence occurs. "They'll have a burned-out worker filling empty slots and not being able to use time off as needed," she said.

The city would rather pay off the workers' compensatory time because hiring hourly employees to cover shifts would prove to be quite costly, Farrar said.

Since mid-June, the city has asked that a mediator be brought into the negotiations, said Farrar.

"Our thought is that a neutral third party would perhaps bring us closer to reaching an agreement," she said. "The mediator may not reach a final agreement, but it would bring us closer together and move issues along."

Farrar explained that the mediation process is confidential and there is no cost involved. The most difficult part of bringing in a mediator would be having everyone's schedule coincide to have the meeting, she said.

The union opposes bringing a mediator to the negotiations.

"We think it would be more productive to keep dealing openly, as opposed to going to mediation," Lin said. "The track record of mediation has not been helpful in previous sessions."

Farrar disagrees. "In my experience with the SEIU and other labor groups, it has been helpful to have a mediator. It does provide another point of view."

The city has used mediation for public safety employees' negotiations, including the police and fire departments.

City workers turned to the public for support in their labor negotiations Saturday by passing out flyers that listed their major arguments at the city's Small Brewers Festival. Three union members passed out approximately 500 flyers over a two-hour period at the festival, Lin said.

The union is working on scheduling another meeting date; tentatively, the meeting would be held Aug. 21, Lin said.


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