After working 11 months without a contract, River Forest Public Works maintenance workers and water operators have agreed to a three-year contract.

The deal with Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers was approved by a unanimous vote of the village board at the Feb. 24 meeting. The contract, which covers nine public works employees, has already been ratified by the union.

“The village appreciates the cooperation of our public works employees and Local 150 in agreeing to this collective bargaining agreement,” said Eric Palm, village administrator. “We believe it is a fair contract for both sides and look forward to continuing our strong working relationship.”  

The previous public works employees contract expired April 30, as did contracts with the union representing the village’s firefighters and fire lieutenants and the union representing police officers.

Palm said negotiations continue with the other unions, Local 2391 of the International Association of Firefighters, which represents firefighters and fire lieutenants, and River Forest Lodge 46 of the Fraternal Order of Police. Staff at village hall are not represented by a bargaining unit. 

“Working without a contract can vary for a multitude of reasons,” Palm explained.  “Most contracts include retroactivity pay back to the expiration date of the previous contract, so usually both sides are more focused on taking their time as opposed to rushing through.”

Under the new deal, public works employees will receive salary increases of 1.75 percent in each of the first two years of the contract, with the first-year increase retroactive to May 1. The increase in the third year is dependent on health insurance costs. If insurance premiums increase 5 percent or less, the third-year increase will be 2 percent; if premiums increase between 5 and 7 percent, the increase will be 1.75 percent; and if premiums increase between 7 and 10 percent, the increase will be 1.5 percent.

Bargaining unit employees obtain health insurance through the Midwest Operating Engineers Benefit Fund (MOEBF). The village pays the entire premium cost per employee, per month, for Local 150 employees. According to the contract, rate increases will be determined by MOEBF but capped at 10 percent. 

In addition, the annual uniform and boot allowance per employee was increased from $425 to $450.

Language changes addressed fair share and step-up pay. 

Addressing fair share, language was changed to specify that employees are free to pay voluntary union contributions. The change comes in light of the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which determined that fair share agreements violate First Amendment protections of free association and free speech. 

The step-up pay language change affects maintenance workers I and II, who hold the required water operator’s license. Those employees who are assigned to perform the duties of water operator for one or more hours will be compensated the difference between that employee’s current hourly rate and the water operator rate for the same step during those hours worked.

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