Roberts cites unfairness in wage increase precedent

As previously approved by members of city council, the city's union employees and police are under contract to receive wage increases every year through 2012. Councilman Bob Roberts brought up this point on Monday evening as he argued in favor of allowing the city's 13 non-union management employees to receive a three percent wage increase in 2011. The three percent wage increase for management employees has already been factored into the city's 2011 budget, which was balanced by council members on Monday evening. Council will vote on whether to approve both the increase and the budget at a future meeting. According to Dave Greene, city manager, the city currently has 52 employees. Fourteen of those employees are management, though the chief of police, while classified as a management employee, is under a union contract. "To simply say that these 13 people are treated differently than we've already agreed to treat the rest of them, I'm not in favor of that," Roberts said at the meeting. Roberts stated that his fellow council members had previously committed to a wage increase for roughly three quarters of the city's employees. At city council's Jan. 18, 2010 meeting, council members voted to approve a three-year contract for the city's union employees. According to the minutes from that meeting, no members of council spoke up in opposition of the contract or the annual wage increase, though it was noted that councilman Dick Dornisch did vote in opposition. It was also noted in the minutes that Roberts was excused from that meeting and did not vote. All other members of council, including mayor Sally Geyer, who openly opposed the proposed three percent wage increase for management employees at the most recent city council budget meeting, voted in favor of the union employee contract and the annual wage increase included in it at the January meeting. The current wage scale for members of the St. Marys City Police Department was set when their contract was approved at the city council meeting on April 21, 2008. Roberts and Dan Hepner were not members of city council at that time.According to the minutes from the April 21, 2008 meeting, council members were made aware that they were approving a four-year contract that included a three percent wage increase for city police employees during each year of the contract. According to the minutes, no members of council expressed opposition to the contract or wage increase, and all members, including Geyer and Dornisch, voted to approve the police contract. At Monday night's budget meeting, Roberts indicated that council had already set a precedent for the majority of city employees by approving wage increases in the most recent union and police contracts. "The unions are there. You've got to respect them and you've got to deal with them," Roberts said. "You had the ability to negotiate with them. That's all past. You did negotiate in good faith and that's what you settled on. That's what you agreed to, so there's nothing you're going to do about that."Dornisch indicated that the hesitancy of council members to approve the increase for the city's 13 management employees may stem from how it will be perceived by city residents. "Whether this money amounts to much, and it doesn't on this increase for these people, the perception of us giving this today to them is something we really have to deal with," Dornisch said. "These are the people who elected us and these are the people who [the management employees] work for."Roberts, in turn, responded that, while he was not forgetting about perception, council had already entered into contracts guaranteeing the city's other 39 union and police employees annual wage increases through 2012. "What I'm saying is you've already committed to three quarters of your employees getting [a raise not only next year, but this year and in 2010]," Roberts said. "Now do you think it's conscionable to say to the rest of them, 'I'm sorry but you're not getting anything, but we gave the [other employees these annual increases]?'"For more information on this story, see the November 10 edition of The Daily Press.