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Concession needed before council okays this contract

May 29, 2003|BY BOB MAGINNIS

The Hagerstown City Council needs to deliver a strong message to its largest employee union before it signs any new agreement: The city cannot afford its latest demand, at least not without a significant concession on the union's part. Fortunately, the union's own representative has already made an excellent suggestion.

On Tuesday the city council was ready to sign a contract with the Local No. 1540 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The local represents 150 city workers in the public works and water and sewer departments, among others. The group has been without a contract since June 2002, but union and management have worked under the previous pact as they sought to reach a new agreement.

In today's economy and given the cash-poor situation of the city government, the agreement seems generous. Workers would get a 2.5 percent increase retroactive to July 1, 2002 and a 3.14 percent boost effective July 1 of this year.

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But the AFSCME group requested a last-minute change which said that if any other employee group "gets a higher compensation package... AFSCME 1540 will be provided the same level of additional compensation."

After City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman distributed the proposed amendment, the council wisely voted to table the matter. The members should think long and hard before they accept the idea without some agreement that would curb the city's labor costs.

Fortunately, Jim Bestpitch, the union's negotiator, has previously proposed an alternative. It's called workplace re-engineering and allows union workers to be cross-trained so workers can be more productive and the number of employees can be reduced through attrition.

With such a concession, Bestpitch is asking for a black check. Unless he's willing to push his members to accept the idea he once offered, the city council should say no.

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