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Simi Valley Council OKs Workers' Pact

Labor: The deal, subject to union members' ratification, calls for a 4.9% pay and benefits hike over four years for 300 employees.

July 26, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After two months of tough negotiations, the Simi Valley City Council on Wednesday OKd a new contract for about 300 union workers, agreeing to give them a 4.9% raise in pay and benefits each year through 2006.

The deal is subject to ratification by a majority of the union's 170 dues-paying members, said Zelma Baer, part of the negotiating team for Service Employees International Union Local 988, which covers police dispatchers, clerks, bus drivers, custodians, mechanics and secretaries.

Mail-in ballots will be sent out today, and Baer said she is "optimistic and hopeful" the pact will be approved.

The results are expected to be back by Wednesday.

"I've been getting e-mails every 30 seconds, and the majority of people are happy," said Baer, who works in the city's accounting department. "They didn't want to strike."

Still, many employees were so geared up for a possible walkout that it may take time for them to get ready to give the contract their approval, Edgar McLemore, president of the bargaining unit, said.

"We really did our job when we went out to get them motivated," he said, adding that workers were ready to strike immediately if the council had rejected the proposal. "Now we have to bring them back down, and that's the process we're in."

McLemore said he believes the agreement is a good one.

"We made a lot of movement toward where we wanted to go," he said.

About 3% of the increase each year will go toward salaries, with the remainder earmarked for benefits. Creation of a medical benefits program for union retirees also is part of the deal.

The package, which totals 19.6% over four years, equates to about $7.2 million in extra payroll costs, city officials said.

"This was the right thing to do by our employees, and I'm glad the union [leaders] saw it that way, too," City Councilman Glen Becerra said.

He added that council members wanted to do whatever they could to avoid a strike.

"We felt it was very important to make a fair offer," he said. "Very few people in this country right now are guaranteed a 20% raise over four years."

Increases to help employees cover the cost of rising insurance premiums were a focus for the union throughout negotiations, which began June 5.

For instance, the city's contribution toward a family's medical insurance will rise from $310 a month to $960 a month in four years, Baer said.

"That's the biggest jump we have ever made for general unit employees in the history of the city," she said. "It will make a considerable difference."

In terms of salary, union officials say the average worker in the bargaining unit makes $16 an hour. At the end of the contract, that average wage will rise to $18 an hour.

The new contract would take effect Aug. 12.

Assistant City Manager Laura Magelnicki said settling with the union means that Simi Valley city leaders are finished--for a while--with labor negotiations.

The police officers' union is in the second year of a four-year contract, and city management employees, who are not represented by a union, were given a 3.5% raise July 1.

Next, city officials and union leaders will have to deal with a classification and compensation study--due out in a few months--that will compare in detail the wages and benefits of Simi Valley municipal employees with those in other cities.

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