Independence Power and Light contract approved

Mike Genet

One month later, the Independence City Council approved the new labor agreement with the city’s electrical workers, which includes a 1 percent raise each of the two years.

Last month, before the council’s post-election changeover of members, the council voted down an emergency ordinance for the same International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 53 contract, which covers 143 Power & Light workers. The council had twice voted to extend the previous contract as negotiations continued. Negotiations were largely complete before the pandemic hit in March, but the pandemic delayed union voting on it.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the IBEW contract, with only Council Member Karen DeLuccie voting no. New Council Members Brice Stewart, Mike Steinmeyer and Dan Hobart joined Mayor Eileen Weir and Council Members John Perkins and Mike Huff with approval.

The contract is retroactive to last November and runs through October 2021. City Manager Zach Walker said the city budgeted enough to cover the raises – about $94,000 last year and $144,000 this year.

“It won’t have an adverse effect on the budget,” Walker said.

In that same meeting last month, the council extended the current police union contract for the same year, as union leadership offered to postpone negotiations, including a possible 1 percent raise, given the city’s precarious finances amid the pandemic.

The council voted 4-3 to approve the IBEW contract last month, but as an emergency ordinance then it needed at least five votes to pass. DeLuccie and Scott Roberson had said it wasn’t good timing to OK a contract with a raise when non-union employees would not receive a raise and the police had just delayed a possible raise. Tom Van Camp, like Roberson an outgoing council member, joined DeLuccie in voting down the contract at the time.

Before, new labor contracts had been approved by emergency ordinance – both readings in one meeting instead of consecutive meetings – to allow human resources to do necessary accounting more quickly, particularly with a retroactive agreement.

Huff, a former manager in IPL, acknowledged that some IPL linemen are among the city’s highest-paid employees. But he said he can remember when they were among the lowest-paid, and Power & Light fund now can handle the slight pay raise.

“We took any journeyman ticket,” Huff said. “Over the years the city has chosen to go out and get the best.”

Hobart said, “We’ve got to start somewhere” with employee raises, and he hoped the IBEW contract would be a baseline for other employee groups.

Some other union employees, such as maintenance or clerical workers represented under the IBEW, will receive a raise under existing agreements negotiated before the pandemic. Some communication and water department workers could receive 1 percent raises if they exercise the “wage reopeners” allowed in their union contracts, Walker said, and those negotiations are ongoing.