By Anna Lothson
The three-years of contract negotiations ended between the Village of Oak Park management and the union representing roughly 75 village employees -- as long as the village board approves the decision Monday evening.
The village has been in negotiations with leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 since fall of 2010; multiple failed negotiations led to a strike in July 2012. Twenty-seven employees and a group of vocal union supporters protested outside village hall for two-days before returning to work and negotiations.
According to documents recommended for approval at a special board meeting Sept. 23, the union membership voted to approve the contract Sept. 16 that was agreed upon by village and union leaders on Sept. 12. The contract provides a 1.5 percent general wage increase and a 1.25 percent merit incentive pay each year. In addition, according to the document, the "pay-for-performance incentive" was moved from a base-wage increase to a lump sum incentive payment.
Merit-based pay, vacation policy pay and the wage increase were the main sticking points that left negotiations halted in the most recent negations. Wednesday Journal reported last year that the village was offering about a 1-percent wage increase plus a one-percent merit increase. At the time, however, union officials worried the village was trying to take away the ability for the union employees to file grievances when merit increases are decided.
That's where negotiations hit a snag.
Village officials said during the time of the strike that if a compromise could have been reached earlier, the employees would have seen about a 2.5-percent merit-based increase based on the last round of evaluations.
Last July, non-union village hall employees saw a 2-percent pay increase last year. They got the raise for the first time in about three-and-a-half years because of a previous wage freeze said David Powers, village communication manager. Negotiations then halted the ability for other wage or merit increases because the employers were working without a contract.
The details of the contract, if approved Monday, for the collective bargaining agreement relate to wages, merit incentives, overtime, vacation and sick benefits, and general healthcare costs. The initial village documents available publically don't provide what those details are. The contract is for 70 full-time employees and five part-time employees with annual salaries ranging between $ 30,392 and $ 73,346. The contract is effective until Dec. 31, 2014.
During the strike last year, union employees and a union spokesman relayed the concerns of the group. Claims of favoritism and empty promises of merit-based increases without actually budgeting for the possible increases were some complaints at the time. Of the 76-person union membership that voted to authorize a strike, 43 votes were cast in favor of and 8 voted against. Twenty-five members did not vote. The two percent increase the union initially sought would have amounted to $75,000 a year across all the employees, according to Adam Rosen, Local 73 SEIU communications director. The 1.5-percent wage increase agreed upon in the most recent contract was a compromise between the village and the union's desires.
Also on the agenda to approve Monday is an agreement between another collective bargaining agreement that represents 10 employees in the water and sewer division of the public works department. Those negotiations began in January 2012 after the employees changed unions. The village received notice the union approved the contract Sept. 11.
That contract provides a 1-percent general wage increase and a 1.5-percent merit incentive payment each contract term. The employees in this union group are paid between $ 22.80-$ 32.69/hour.
The heavily-negotiated collective bargaining agreement for the 75 employees is for multiple departments such as public works, clerical police employees, and general administration. The details of this particular negotiation caused a minor tiff following an Aug. 19 village board meeting when Village President Anan Abu-Taleb spoke publically about details of an executive session.
"It is public knowledge that we as a board have been meeting in the executive session about collective bargaining," Abu-Taleb said Aug. 19. "We as a board are committed to a positive environment. We are committed to our staff and we want to have the best possible relationship."
"We are serious about trying to resolve this issue and I hope that the union is also thinking in the same terms because nothing would make us happier than getting it done," he continued. "I hope that the same positive attitude that we have on the board is going to be reflected in the union."
Board members didn't get a chance to pipe in before the meeting was adjourned, but Trustees Ray Johnson and Glenn Brewer both spoke soon after to the president about their concern about his comments.
Calling Abu-Taleb's comments "unusual and inappropriate," Johnson said the president overstepped his role by speaking about what was discussed in executive session. He and Brewer also weren't happy the president chose to speak on behalf of the board. Trustees agreed Oak Park's policy of executive session talks weren't followed by the president. Some interest was shown by board members to bring back the subject of addressing executive session matters to determine if the policy needs tweaking.
"There is nothing to say at this moment except that we want to be fair to employees and we want to be fair for tax payers," Johnson said Aug. 19, following the board meeting. "We will move forward in a collective manner and we were not there yet."
Per Monday's board approval, however, it appears after three years the village is there now.