By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Laborers Local 924’s tentative new contract calls for a 5.34 percent pay rate increase and restores benefits taken away by the city after it carried out a 2012 court order for substantial hourly rate increases.
The settlement ends a 15-year period in which Laborers worked without a contract. “It has been a long struggle and we are glad the fight is finally over,” Local 924 President Kyle Simmons said.
Years of going without a contract put a great economic squeeze on Laborers.
With their pay frozen — until the court-ordered increase in 2012— many workers were forced to run up credit card bills and borrow from their pensions to get by. The economic squeeze forced some workers into bankruptcy and even caused marriages to fall apart.
The settlement — signed Nov. 15 — restores 11 paid holidays, some vacation days, four bereavement days, and paid jury duty and quarantine leave. New hires will receive five more vacation days (bringing the total days to 10), and veterans gained three more days up to 20 days, beginning Jan. 1.
Laborers will also be credited for lost annual leave and sick leave. The number of days credited to employees’ leave banks is based on the worker’s years of service.
The prolonged on again, off again contract bargaining was rooted in a disagreement over the comptroller’s finding in 2010 that the pay rates of the Laborers should be significantly increased to match the prevailing rate in the private sector. The comptroller issued another ruling, known as a “consent determination,” in 2010 that the city also disputed.
The Laborers sought to have their pay increases set outside the bargaining process for the union’s general economic agreement, which covers more than 90,000 DC 37 members.
Members with blue-collar jobs have the option of turning down the master economic agreement and instead have their raises determined by a complicated survey process overseen by the comptroller that compares their pay with that of their counterparts in the private sector.
Since the city did not accept the comptroller’s 2002 finding, the matter eventually wound up in court.
The city was angered by the substantial court-ordered hourly rate increases and the resulting high back pay. Many Laborers received six-figure packages for back pay.
Arguing that the value of the benefits combined with the rate hikes meant that the Laborers’ total compensation exceeded that of their private-sector counterparts, the city unilaterally cut the workers’ benefits and would not bargain seriously with the union until recently. The city refused to implement a second comptroller’s consent decree that covered 2002-2010 period.
The improved labor relations in the city during the de Blasio administration allowed the parties to resolve this 15-year dispute without further litigation, according to Associate General Counsel Steven Sykes, who was involved in the negotiations.
Research and Negotiations Director David Paskin reported on the new contract at the union’s monthly delegates meeting on Nov. 22. Paskin, who led the talks with the city, acknowledged the deep frustration of members over working without a contract for so long. He credited them for prevailing upon the union to pressure the city to return to the bargaining table.
The new contract covers the period from July 1, 2002, to Oct. 15, 2017. Basically, the contract mirrors the two economic agreements between the union and city covering those years.
The Laborers’ hourly rate will reach $33.07 (a 1 percent increase) in 2014, $33.57 in 2015 (1.50 percent), $33.57 (2.50 percent) in 2015, $34.41 (2.50 percent) in 2016 and $34.50 (.25 percent) in 2017.
Significantly, the contract provides for a permanent $200 increase per member of the city’s welfare fund contributions. The increase will raise the city’s annual contribution to $1,775. Under the settlement, Local 924 agreed to support a 2014 agreement on a $3.4 billion plan for health-care savings between the city and the Municipal Labor Committee, which bargains on behalf of city unions for health and welfare fund benefits.
The agreement establishes a labor-management committee to discuss possible rehiring of workers laid off during the term of the new contract.
The Local’s 350 members will vote on the agreement by a mail ballot overseen by an independent monitor. The vote count will occur on Dec. 19.