City Press Release on UWUA Negotiations

(Note: This is a verbatim press release from the City of Lakeland. It is presented here for reader information. I have not interviewed any of the parties involved, and do not plan to do so this weekend. Until I can do so, I’m publishing the press release, and offer to do the same for the UWUA. )

LAKELAND, FL (April 24, 2009) — The City of Lakeland made a last, best and final offer to the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 604 on March 13th after almost 18 months of negotiations that included offers and counter offers regarding compensation. The union and those Lakeland Electric employees represented by Local 604 notified the City of Lakeland on April 21st via faxed letter that they are declaring impasse on the issue of wages. Impasse begins a process to resolve disputes between the employer and the union that could not be agreed upon through negotiation.

The City of Lakeland and the UWUA have been involved in negotiations since September 2007 for an inaugural collective bargaining agreement. All other proposed bargaining points have been tentatively agreed upon by both parties with wages being the last article to be resolved. At the last scheduled meeting between the negotiating teams on March 13th, the City made a final offer on wages in a good faith effort to bring closure to the collective bargaining process. This final offer involved a multi-year, market based proposal that was developed through wage surveys of Central Florida area electric utilities, including both investor and municipally owned utility systems which Lakeland Electric competes for skilled personnel.

City Manager Doug Thomas said, “Our negotiation team has strived to develop a fair market based proposal that takes into account total compensation including hourly wages and benefits. If you take the total package into consideration, especially in light of the unique electric utility market in which we compete in Central Florida. We believe it is difficult to justify wages that are higher than those proposed in the City’s offer, especially when you take into account the balance of historical municipal benefits including medical, dental, vision plans, a defined benefit pension and paid leave which have been tentatively agreed upon by the parties.”

The final wage proposal also reflected a transition to a performance based pay plan with market based compensation developed for each job classification. After evaluating wages from area electric utilities, a pay band was established with a minimum hourly wage and a maximum hourly wage for each union represented position at Lakeland Electric.

Jim Pennington, Deputy General Manager for Lakeland Electric said, “The market survey showed us that in some areas, especially at the low end of some of our job classifications, we (Lakeland Electric) needed to improve to assure the retention and recruitment of numerous technical utility positions, and I believe that the latest wage proposal took that into effect. The market survey also made it evident that some of our union represented job classifications were already at, and in some cases above, what other utilities in the area are paying.” He added, “We believe that the City’s final wage proposal is a fair offer that reflects the local market for electric utility worker wages, especially given the significant economic challenges we are all facing.”

Through the City’s final wage offer, all bargaining employees would have received an immediate 2% across the board wage increase upon ratification of the contract with a second 1% increase in pay on October 1, 2009. The final wage proposal also called for an immediate wage adjustment to bring those bargaining unit employees to the established minimum for their classification if their hourly rate was still less than the market minimum after the across the board wage increases. All bargaining employees would have also been eligible for an annual performance based merit increase up to 3% for 2009, up to 4% for 2010 and up to 5% for 2011.

With the UWUA declaring impasse, the next step could be mediation. If an agreement cannot be made through the assistance of a designated mediator or if the parties choose not to go to mediation, a Special Master is appointed to help resolve the dispute. The parties may mutually agree upon a Special Master but if they do not, one will be appointed by the Lakeland Public Employee Relations Commission. After the Special Master hearing, if the parties still don’t agree on recommendations, the remaining issues are decided by the Lakeland City Commission. Any agreement must be ratified by the union and ultimately have the approval of the Lakeland City Commission in order to go into effect.

Thomas said, “The City presented a last, best and final offer to the UWUA and those employees represented by Local 604. We have made several offers and this last one is the very best we can do under these extremely challenging economic market conditions. We have surveyed other area utility compensation plans and developed a pay plan based upon that data. Our team feels that we have put together a very fair offer and believe it is unjust for our customers to pay more than what the market bears, especially during economic times with rising unemployment, foreclosures and failing businesses.”

(Note: This is a verbatim press release from the City of Lakeland. It is presented here for reader information. I have not interviewed any of the parties involved, and do not plan to do so this weekend. Until I can do so, I’m publishing the press release, and offer to do the same for the UWUA. )