Borough and union negotiators have settled on a new labor agreement for Petersburg’s power and light employees. The workers will get a small wage increase while paying a higher share of their insurance costs and giving up some time off. Matt Lichtenstein reports:

Petersburg assembly member John Hoag represented the borough in contract talks with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He said this week the biggest issue had involved the amount that employees contribute to rising health insurance costs:

“These folks had what I would call a hard-dollar cap on their co-pay for health care where they were paying no more than 300 dollars a month for a family. And the rest of the borough, as a result of the last round of PMEA negotiations, is paying around six and a quarter to six and a half for full family health care and that created quite an inequity.”

PMEA is the Petersburg Municipal Employees Association which represents about 70 borough workers. Petersburg’s 11 power and light employees are part of the IBEW, which is a separate union.

According to Hoag, Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht wanted to have all employees eventually pay 20 percent of their insurance cost over time, rather than a fixed dollar amount. Hoag notes that the new IBEW contract phases that in with workers paying 15 percent starting July and 20 a year later. Employees will get one less holiday overall and those with more than nine years on the job are also taking a reduction in the amount of paid time off they accrue. Power and light worker wages, meanwhile, will go up by one percent in July and two percent a year later.

Hoag says that will offset their increased insurance costs to some degree, but he doesn’t think the additional pay will amount to a lot over the life of the agreement. So, he appreciated the IBEW’s compromise.

“I want to compliment them on their professionalism and, you know, their willingness over time to change. They had for the last 20-odd years had a higher level of benefits than the rest of the city employees. Neither Steve nor myself thought that was particularly fair. We want to treat all the employees the same. They’re all valuable folks and IBEW people went along with that plan even though it involves some sacrifice on their part.”

Negotiations between the Borough and the IBEW started back in November. In Early February, the Borough Assembly approved tentative agreements on some of the contract language but the parties were still working on monetary issues. Help from an outside mediator eventually led to a settlement.

IBEW assistant business manager Jay Rodes this week declined to a request for union comment on the agreement, but he did confirm that the employees had ratified it. The Petersburg Borough Assembly will vote on the contract during its May 6th meeting.