By Anna Lothson
The village of Oak Park and the union representing roughly 75 village employees have ended their three-year negotiation process.
The village has been in negotiations with leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 since the 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 a resolution approved Monday at a special village board meeting, union membership voted to approve the contract agreed upon by village and union leaders on Sept. 12. The contract provides a 1.5 percent general wage increase, plus the possibility of a 1.25 percent merit incentive pay boost 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 negotiations. Wednesday Journal reported last year that the village was offering about a 1 percent wage increase plus a 1 percent merit increase. At the time, however, union officials worried the village was trying to take away the union's ability 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 had been reached earlier, employees would have seen about a 2.5 percent merit increase, based on the last round of evaluations.
Last July, non-union village hall employees received a 2 percent pay increase. They got the raise for the first time in roughly three and a half years because of a previous wage freeze, said David Powers, village communication manager. Negotiations then halted other wage or merit increases because employers were working without a contract.
Details of the contract for the collective bargaining agreement relate to wages, merit incentives, overtime, vacation and sick benefits, and general health-care costs. The initial village documents available publicly 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 of the complaints at the time. Of the 76-person union membership that voted to authorize a strike, 43 votes were cast in favor, with 8 voting against. Twenty-five members did not vote. The 2 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.
Also approved Monday was another collective bargaining agreement which affects 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 on Sept. 11.
That contract provides a 1 percent general-wage increase and a 1.5 percent merit-incentive payment in each contract term. The employees in this union group are paid between $22.80 and $32.69 per 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 publicly about details of an executive session.
"It is public knowledge that we as a board have been meeting in 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 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.
"There is nothing to say at this moment except that we want to be fair to employees and we want to be fair for taxpayers," 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 it appears, after three years, the village is there now.