Havre Daily News
It looks like the Havre city employees may get more money in their pockets this year.
Last year, permanent employees got a 0.5 percent longevity raise, but city workers did not receive a general pay increase because of budget concerns. This year, the unions representing city firefighters and police officers requested raises between 8 percent and 10 percent, and the union representing public works employees requested a $1.25-per-hour raise across the board.
The Havre City Council's Labor Relations Committee has returned with a proposal for a raise of 3 percent for all city employees. Council member and committee chair Terry Schend said that would amount to an increase of about $120,000 in the city's budget.
"That's going to be a tough one to sell," Schend told firefighters last week.
Public works employee representatives said at their meeting on May 26 that they are requesting a dollar amount because percentage increases tend to give more to higher-paid employees and less to those lower on the scale.
The Labor Relations Committee began meeting with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 601, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 336 and the local chapter of the Montana Public Employees Association, which represents police officers, in March to begin negotiating new contracts. All three contracts expire on June 30.
Last year, negotiations extended through the summer and into the fall. This year, the city and each of the three unions have talked about negotiating multi-year contracts, but that item is being held until the end of the process.
The city and two of the unions are also discussing health insurance costs. Public works employees and city police officers have requested that the city pay any increase in the costs, while the firefighters have said they will not bring the issue to the table until costs go up.
City finance director Lowell Swenson said today that the city pays the majority of health insurance costs for all employees. The city funds its own health insurance, and Missoula-based Allegiance Benefit Plan Management administers the claims.
The city is waiting on a health insurance quote from the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority, a pool of cities and towns across the state. The city already receives liability insurance, property insurance and workers' compensation through MMIA, Swenson said.
Besides the $1.25-per-hour increase, public works employees are seeking to increase their longevity pay, supervisor pay, differential pay and clothing allowance. They are also asking to be paid every other Friday instead of twice a month, and workers want the choice of accepting overtime or compensatory time.
Local 336 president Darren Johnson called the pay increase requests a "cost-of-living increase." The union hopes employees won't have to pay more for health insurance, he added.
The firefighters are asking for an increase in the minimum amount of overtime paid out for callbacks. When the workers are called out for an emergency or have to drive the ambulance to Great Falls, they are paid time and a half for the first two hours. The firefighters are asking for that minimum to be increased to three hours of overtime pay.
Police officers are negotiating how they are paid for holidays. Under the current contract, police officers each year receive a bank of 96 hours of comp time that is used to compensate them for working on holidays. The union is asking that the city look at setting up a system that would pay officers overtime or double time for holidays. Members of the union and the committee both said they would like to revisit the way officers are paid. The differences in each officer's shift create inequities in annual pay between officers of the same rank who became employed at the same time. Some officers work almost 300 hours more a year than others for the same salary.
Schend said he believes the negotiations with all three unions are going "very well" at this time.
"Everybody has a pretty good attitude about what we're doing and where we have to go," Schend said. "We'll see how it all shakes out."