Public works workers still without a contract
A representative of the union that represents Merrill public works employees chastised the Common Council for not accepting a union contract offer that it claims would have saved the city up to $90,000.
Speaking during the public comment period at the end of last Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, John Spiegelhoff, a representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said not accepting the union’s wage and salary concessions it had made during a meeting with a mediator showed that the city did not respect the street, water and sewer workers.
“You have an opportunity, folks, to do the right thing. You have an opportunity to treat your employees with respect,” Spiegelhoff said to the council. “We need a contract.”
He added that the council came to an agreed contract with the unions representing members of the police and fire departments, at terms more than what AFSCME had offered to accept. The contract with the 25 public works employees expired on Dec. 31, 2010.
The AFSCME offer included a two-year freeze on wages, 5.8 percent contributions toward a retirement pension plan and increased contributions toward health benefits, Spiegelhoff said.
Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki on Monday said that the union had also rejected a counteroffer from the city, something Spiegelhoff did not mention in his remarks. He said the primary stumbling block is contract language the union wants to keep in the contract to keep it from being eliminated under Act 10.
Since the Wisconsin State Supreme Court overturned a Dane County judge’s ruling that the law was void, it is unclear when it will take effect. The law would strip the right of unions to negotiate many provisions in current contracts going forward. It is now being challenged in Federal court by opponents, leaving doubt as to when the restrictions would go into place.
A final meeting between the two sides and the mediator is scheduled for July 1.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved a $40,000 economic development loan to Dennis Lerch as part of the $200,000 it will cost to modernize the projection equipment at the Cosmo Theater.
Lerch needs to have the digital equipment installed soon because the motion picture industry is moving away from prints of movies on film stock as the preferred method of distributing to theaters.
“If I don’t get this done soon, I will be out of business,” Lerch said Saturday. “Film will be gone soon, maybe as soon as the end of 2012.”
He said the conversion process will start once school resumes in the fall. Since each theater will need to be shut down for two or three days while the equipment is installed, it is better to do the work after the busy season for the theater.
The seven-year, 4 percent loan was passed by the Common Council by a unanimous vote.