A _new two-year contract_ for El Cerrito city employees that includes budget-cutting concessions was approved unanimously by the El Cerrito City Council Tuesday night.
The new pact covers Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents regular city employees outside of police, fire and management. It extends to June 30, 2014.
The concessions include increased employee contributions toward pensions, extension of a pay freeze for another year, three furlough days and loss of a holiday. SEIU members, who had complained of having had no raises for three years, will receive a 3.25-percent pay boost in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Last spring, as part of a strategy to close an anticipated budget deficit of $313,000 for the current 2012-13 fiscal year without cutting services or jobs, the city asked employees to accept concessions. Police officers and firefighters agreed to give up their contractually guaranteed 2.1-percent cost-of-living increase, and non-sworn management employees agreed to pay an additional 3 percent of their salary toward their pensions.
The city sought concessions also from SEIU members, who responded that they were already underpaid and shouldering an unfair burden of the sacrifice. They appeared in union t-shirts and spoke at two City Council meetings and also staged a _lunchtime protest_ with signs outside city hall on June 19.
One key city plank in the long and often difficult negotiations was that SEIU members increase their CalPERS pension contributions to 4 percent of salary, up from 1 percent. The new contract, which SEIU members approved in a vote on Aug. 15, calls for an increase to 2.5 percent in the first year and to a total 3 percent in the second year.
"These concessions that were made by SEIU as well as the other employee groups have made a significant contribution to insure the city's service levels are in place without workforce reductions," city Administrative Services Director Mary Dodge told the council.
Councilman Greg Lyman called the result "fantastic" and thanked the city's negotiator and city staff and the SEIU employees for the "hard work" in reaching the settlement.
Mayor Bill Jones said negotiations over pay are especially difficult in tough financial times of high economic insecurity.
"We appreciate the employees working with the city to come up with a solution to a problem," Jones said. "I won't say that everybody's satisfied with it. This isn't the time where you get very satisfied agreements. But we did come up with an agreement. The employees were a big part of that, and we appreciate their time (and) consideration on that."
The new agreeent also introduces a second-tier retirement plan for future SEIU employees with less generous pension benefits. The retirment age would move to 60 from 55, and the pension amount would fall. Current employees are eligible to receive pensions calculated at 2.7 percent of their highest paid year multiplied by years of service. The new formula would be 2 percent based on the highest three-year average option.
The city staff report on the new pact, called a "Memorandum of Understanding," is attached to this article. It includes the new contract.
In response to a question from Councilwoman Rebecca Benassini about the impact on the city's plan from the new state pension rollback law, AB 340, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, Dodge and City Manager Scott Hanin said there are conflicting legal interpretations and that city staff hopes to return to the council with answers next month.
"We are getting mixed – very mixed – signals," he said.
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