BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – City officials have approved a new personnel manual that redefines employee benefits for city employees.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council, the council voted 6-1 to approve the modified handbook that outlines changes to non-union employee benefits. City staff had been working on the changes since Iowa laws changed stripping bargaining rights from city workers. The Fort Madison Police Department and Fort Madison Fire Departments are still covered by union contracts.
Tracy Leone, a business agent out of the Quad Cities for Teamsters 238, was on hand at the meeting representing the city’s library and water department employees.
Leone told the council that 2017’s Chapter 20 overhaul amounted to union busting, but said the council and city administration had “a wide berth to direct its bargaining representative to retain many permissible subjects that were in previous contracts”.
She said it has been difficult for the employees during the transition to the handbook that was effective July 1.
“Here we are 52 days later, finally voting on the handbook that spells out the working conditions of the people who keep our water safe to drink and our libraries welcoming places for all,” Leone said.
She recognized the city had kept some of the benefits from the contract in the new handbooks, but pointed out several reductions in benefits including sick leave accrual, sick leave compensation, shift differential pay, funeral leave, and health insurance. The plan also provides for $10/month in increased longevity pay, increases in certification pay, increases in winter wear and safety shoe reimbursement, CDL pay and a base wage increase of 2.5% for distribution and plant employees, according to Leone.
The sick leave accrual cash out language changes the amount of sick leave allowed to be accrued from 600 to 250 hours. Leone pointed out there are current city employees who are close to retirement who were banking those hours for a payout and that money would be used to help pay for the cost of retirement until they are eligible for Medicaid. She said that change will impact employees retirement plans and could impact their health coverage.
An employee making $20/hour lost $7,000 if they had at least 600 hours of sick leave accrued on their retirement date with the changes in the handbook.
City Councilman Chad Cangas said he had a problem with making that change.
“I feel like that a stroke of a pen we’re taking that away from people that might be counting on it. I’d like to see anyone eligible for retirement in two years still take advantage of it,” Cangas said.
There are several employees with over 20 years in water and two in library who do have over 20 years.,” said city finance director Peggy Steffensmeier.
“That really isn’t meant to pay for health insurance. Although I think that was the intention when it was put in there, but it was never spelled out.”
City Manager David Varley said people shouldn’t rely on buyouts and payouts as revenue for retirement. He said people need to better utilize their retirement funds and keep an eye on costs to make adjustments as they move closer toward retirement age.
“Every year when there was bargaining, employees get more pay, more benefits. To pick one item out and say I was banking on this when I got hired, ok, then look at all the other benefits you got every single year that you weren’t banking on when you got hired because you didn’t have them when you were hired. If you use buy out of vacation and sick leave, and things like that, it can put you in a world of financial trouble.”
Cangas said if he were in the situation of a retiring city employee, he would be upset with the change.
“If I got to 55 or 56 years old and I was counting on 600 hours and the day before my retirement date someone said we’re changing it to 250, boy, I’d be mad.”
Larry Driscoll, director of public works said employees were offered retirement prior to making the changes and those employees didn’t retire. But councilman Bob Morawitz said the issue isn’t about early retirement options.
“This isn’t about early retirement, it’s about regular retirement. If someone was banking on that money being there and you say, ‘No, it’s not’ – that’s not right,” Morawitz said.
Morawitz motioned to amend the section on sick leave hours to exempt any employee that was hired before July 31, 2008 and restore the 600 hours to those employees, however the motion failed for lack of a second.
Randolph then called for the vote on the handbook. Cangas abstained from voting on the issue and Morawitz voted against the handbook changes.
In other action, the council:
voted 8-0 to approve Ashley Balmer and Hugh VandeGriff to the City Parks board with terms expiring March 31, 2018