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St. Petersburg, union reach agreement on wages, but bigger fight looms

ST. PETERSBURG — A compromise reached Tuesday between the city and the union covering the bulk of its workers has left both sides dissatisfied with the current system, setting the stage for an epic labor battle next year.

For now, both sides agreed to a 2 percent across-the-board increase with another 2 percent raise kicking in on the employee's work anniversary.

The wage package will cost about $1.4 million. Mayor Rick Kriseman had proposed a 3 percent increase, which was approved by the City Council for this year's budget.

Despite that 4 percent raise, however, the new agreement doesn't cost more than what's already been approved. That's because while Kriseman's 3 percent pay increase was all at once, the new agreement pins half the 4 percent raise to anniversaries, so they are spread throughout the year.

Also of note: about 560 part-time workers will be able to access the city's health care clinics. Many of those workers don't have insurance because they make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid and they don't earn enough to qualify for subsidies under Obamacare.

The union rank and file is expected to ratify the agreement in early December. The City Council will consider it later that month.

Union officials greeted the tentative agreement as a big win.

"Kudos to the mayor. This is what happens when progressive forces work together," said Rick Smith, the union's chief of staff.

The administration wasn't quite as ebullient in its comments.

"The mayor is proud of our city team at the negotiating table. It sounds like they did a good job. We look forward to the next steps," Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said.

At issue is the union's desire to keep automatic raises, which Kriseman wanted to eliminate. Basically, this agreement keeps the current system in place until Sept. 30, 2016, when a new framework is negotiated.

While this agreement keeps the steps for at least one more year, city negotiators say they want to change the system to link raises to performance rather than make them automatic.

"We want to reward good employees rather than those who are just getting by," said Chris Guella, the city's human resources director.

Smith has other ideas. The union official is excited by the prospect of tying worker raises to property tax collections. For example, if tax revenue rises by 8 percent, workers would receive a 4 percent raise, he said.

If the union is successful in linking the two, it would be a first for Florida and maybe nationally, Smith said.

Guella, however, wondered what would happen if property tax revenue dropped.

"Are they going to take pay cuts?" he said.

An annual cost-of-living increase might a way to reach an accord on that point, Smith said.

"That's going to be a big issue," Guella said. "We're going to need to get back to the table soon."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

St. Petersburg, union reach agreement on wages, but bigger fight looms 11/10/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 8:15pm]
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