By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A union representing about 26 city employees is seeking better pay and benefits as contract negotiations begin.
Both sides acknowledge that a tight city budget will affect the negotiations.
"We've got very little money, so you've got a tough job," Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the City Council's Labor Relations Committee on Monday night.
Darren Johnson, president of Local 336 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, acknowleged that the union won't get the 6 percent raise it has asked for.
"That's not going to happen. We know that," he said Tuesday.
The Labor Relations Committee on Monday reviewed the union's initial proposals, which were presented at a meeting on April 28.
The next meeting between the two parties will be on May 20.
The union represents city garbage collectors, the city shop crew and employees at the water and wastewater treatment plants.
The current two-year contract expires June 30.
The employees are seeking a 6 percent pay raise each year for three years, extra pay for night and weekend work as well as certain specialized equipment work, gaining the Friday after Thanksgiving as a holiday in exchange for another holiday like Presidents Day, an increase in the workers' clothing allowance, and an extension of the city's payment for part of the health insurance premiums of sick or injured workers from three months to six months.
Johnson said the most important issue is increasing the city's contribution to the workers' health insurance premiums. The city is now contributing less to the public works employees' premiums than it does to those of police officers and firefighters, who signed new labor contracts with the city last year.
The difference, Johnson said, amounts to about $60 more a month than police officers pay for the same coverage.
"We all have equal coverage, but we don't have equal premiums," Johnson said. "We pay the highest premiums in the city, and we get the same coverage as the police and Fire Department does."
Despite the city's financial difficulties, Johnson said he is optimistic about the negotiations.
"The first meeting was excellent," he said. "I'm expecting it to be over in no time."
The firefighters' union negotiated a one-year labor contract last year, and the city will be opening contract negotiations with it again this year. The police officers' union signed a two-year contract last year.