CLEARWATER — About 300 city workers will get 2 1/2 percent raises retroactive to Oct. 1 in the first year of a new three-year contract.
But raises in the contract's final two years will be up for negotiation and a change in the city's health care plan has drawn concerns from the union's leaders.
The City Council received the details of the agreement with the Communications Workers of America Local 3179 during a work session Monday. The council is scheduled to give final approval to the deal at its regular meeting Thursday.
The union covers everyone but police, firefighters and management.
"With all the recent decisions by the city to buy additional park land, a country club clubhouse, the Royalty Theatre and the construction of the new downtown marina project, it is no wonder that our members were not sympathetic to the city's position that times are hard and that there was little money for a pay raise," said Lester Pulfer, the union's executive vice president.
The union accepted the city's offer by 13 votes.
Joe Roseto, the city's human resources director, said having the ability to discuss merit raises later in the contract was something the city wanted. He said if the economy is not better, the city may "have to hold the line."
"We need a little more cost certainty," Roseto said. "We will sit down and negotiate only the merit increase and that will be based on where we are budgetwise."
The city met several management objectives in the new contract, Roseto said. Among them: The number of sick hours that can be accrued was reduced from 1,560 to 1,040. In addition, the city's discipline system was modified so that on a first-level offense, the city can suspend an employee for additional days instead of having to fire him.
But Stephen Sarnoff, the union's president, said: "I'm pleased that it passed. I'm not happy with the contract."
In addition to concerns about having to renegotiate merit raises, Sarnoff's other concern is in the increase in out-of-pocket health care costs. He said the average salary for a union member is $28,000 and the city has cut out nearly all overtime work.
While there will still be a co-pay for routine doctor visits, any trip to the hospital would have to be paid out of pocket until a deductible is met. That could be $2,500 for some.
"The good news is we have insurance and most of the cost is paid by the city," Sarnoff said. "The bad news at a time when people are not making ends meet, it's even harder for those on the lower rung pay scale in the city. We are the working poor now."
Roseto said the city did not want an increase in its health care cost and searched for a comparable plan.
"We were able to negotiate this plan because this was the best we could get," he said. "It's not as good as it used to be."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com.