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Teamsters contract passes PR City Council

Council member Erika Randall urges the council to plan negotiation strategies together in the future.

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Park Rapids City Hall

The Park Rapids City Council approved a three-year labor contract on Tuesday with Minnesota Teamsters Union Local 320 representing the city’s public works employees.

City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud said the personnel committee – himself, Mayor Ryan Leckner, council member Tom Conway and city treasurer Angela Brumbaugh – negotiated the agreement in September with union representatives.

“Essentially, we’re looking at a 2.5% increase for 2020 in the regular pay, plus $25 per single and $50 per family contributions to the health insurance,” Mathisrud said. “For 2021, a 2.5% increase in pay, but instead of doing an increase to the health insurance contributions, we would add 22 cents to the base wage. We did the same thing in 2022, adding 22 cents to the base wage, and a 3% increase in pay.”

He said this approach enables the city to respond to increases in insurance premiums and to provide a competitive wage.

“Most people make their decisions to apply for a job based on wages,” Mathisrud explained, adding that the deal fits within the city’s 2020 budget.

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Another change in the agreement, he said, concerns severance pay. “We’re essentially changing severance pay eligibility from 10 years to 20 years, but at the same time we’re increasing the days paid out from 150 to 185 days.”

Mathisrud said all the city’s union agreements have a similar severance pay provision.

He described other changes in the agreement as minor, boilerplate revisions triggered by recent changes in federal law that do not add any costs to the city.

Council member Erika Randall voiced a wish that the council had been consulted in closed session about negotiation strategies before the contract was negotiated.

Conway defended the committee’s work, saying they did not simply apply standard increases to the previous agreement. “I think we did put a little more effort, this year, into looking at it and trying to come up with a strategy of how to change it, as opposed to just walking in and doing what we’ve done in the past,” he said.

Responding to Randall’s contention that employee health benefits are rich, Conway said this is offset by wages being just competitive but not exorbitant for the current labor market. He described the market as “tight” and getting worse.

“We’ve got to make sure, through the course of this, that we’re keeping our wages competitive,” he said, “without causing the city much more expense than we have to.”

Randall identified issues she hopes the city will address in its next round of labor negotiations, such as the practice of saving up sick time as a retirement account. She expressed concern about the risk of multiple employees retiring at once, resulting in major unplanned expenses.

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“Unknowns in city budgets can throw our budgets way out of whack, when you have retirements,” she said. She suggested moving toward a paid time off (PTO) system, like other communities.

Brumbaugh confirmed that city staff anticipates no major retirements of that kind in the next three years. She also noted that sick time accruals are accounted for in enterprise accounts (water, sewer and liquor store).

Randall suggested negotiating labor contracts annually instead of for three-year terms. Conway replied that the financial risk is less when the rate is locked in for three years.

Noting that the council rejecting and renegotiating the agreement was an option, Conway said it remained the personnel committee’s recommendation. He moved to accept the agreement, and his motion passed without dissent.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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