City leaders to consider close to $2M in pay increases for three unionized worker groups, including $650,000 for newly unionized solid waste workers

photo by: Teamsters contribed

Members of Teamsters Union Local No. 696, which represents the city's solid waste workers, voted unanimously on July 14, 2021 to approve the union's first contract with the City of Lawrence.

Lawrence city leaders will soon consider approving contracts for three employee groups that are represented by unions, including the first contract for the city’s recently unionized solid waste workers, which calls for $650,000 in pay increases for next year.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider agreements with the Teamsters Union Local No. 696, the Lawrence Police Officers’ Association, and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1596. Collectively, the three proposed contracts represent $1.94 million in additional pay for 2022. City and union representatives have reached tentative agreement on the proposed contracts, and funding for the pay increases has been incorporated into City Manager Craig Owens’ recently released recommended budget for 2022.

The city’s solid waste workers voted overwhelmingly to unionize under the Teamsters in August 2020, as the Journal-World previously reported. Sixty-six of the city’s 71 solid waste workers voted, with all but one of those workers voting to be represented by the Teamsters. In addition to concerns about their wages, Matt Hall, secretary-treasurer and business agent for the Teamsters, said at the time that workers had multiple concerns about working conditions, such as vacations and work rules about routes, safety and equipment.

The city and Teamsters representatives began discussing aspects of the agreement that weren’t related to wages last year, and they began discussions on pay and other budget-related aspects in April ahead of the city’s budget process. Union members voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of approving the proposed contract, which covers the next three years. In a news release, union leadership said the agreement contains a modernized wage scale and substantial benefits, as well as strong seniority language, a grievance procedure, consistent work rules and improved working conditions.

“This agreement contains countless improvements that sanitation workers in Lawrence have gone too long without,” said Jody Norcross, a sanitation driver and chief steward at Local 696. “We are proud of what we have accomplished.”

The starting salary for a solid waste loader is $16.38 per hour, according to the city’s website. The proposed agreement includes a schedule for annual wage increases based on years of service, a 2.5% overall wage increase for all workers and provisions related to extra pay for taking on certain duties. Taken together, the pay-related provisions of the contract would cost the city an additional $649,000 in 2022.

The new pay grades in the agreement reflect a 2.5% general wage increase for each of the three years of the contract along with placement on one of 10 pay levels that reflect an employee’s years of service with the city, according to a city memo from Human Resources Manager Lori Carnahan. More specifically, employees move up a pay level, or “step,” each year they remain on staff, earning a 5% increase annually for years one through eight and a 2.5% increase for years eight through 10. It would cost the city an additional $624,000 in 2022 to fund the pay schedule and the 2.5% general wage increase.

The agreement also includes an “add pay” program for solid waste loaders who are also trained as solid waste operators and work in that capacity three of the five workdays, amounting to another $25,000 in pay for 2022. The agreement also establishes an overtime rate of pay of time-and-a-half for those who work on city holidays, but that change is budget neutral following changes in holiday scheduling, according to the memo.

Apart from pay-related provisions, the agreement covers employee organization rights, management rights and procedures for policy changes, discipline and grievances, according to the memo. That includes provisions for work hours, overtime and seniority, introductory periods, promotions, demotions and layoffs. Carnahan said the contract reflects or mirrors current city policy regarding benefits such as sick leave, vacations, health care and retirement.

Norcross said that the union hoped the agreement would encourage other city workers to unionize. The petition to unionize from the solid waste workers came after the Teamsters initiated changes to the city’s resolution governing employee unions and the unionization process. Those changes, approved by the City Commission in July 2020, included increasing the number of potential employee bargaining groups from four to six and amending the voting threshold to unionize from 50% of all employees in a group to 50% of votes cast as long as more than half of the bargaining group votes, among other changes. Hall previously told the commission that the former requirements created barriers to unionization for city workers.

In other business Tuesday, the commission will consider a proposed two-year contract for the police union and a proposed three-year contract for the firefighters union, according to separate city memos. The police contract includes a 2.5% general wage increase for those employees and funding for the pay schedule, amounting to an additional $863,000 in pay for the police union next year. The firefighters’ contract also calls for a 2.5% general wage increase and funding for the pay schedule, amounting to an additional $424,000 in pay for the firefighters union next year.

Owens’ recommended budget accounts for the pay increases in all three contracts, as well as raises for non-union employees, according to the memo. The recommended budget includes $5 million total in new compensation for all employees. Nonunion employees would also receive a 2.5% general wage increase as part of a two-year plan to bring their compensation to market rates.

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Residents who want to provide public comment can do so in person at City Hall, in writing or virtually via Zoom, and more information about those options is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the total amount allocated toward employee raises.

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