Concessions were granted by four unions representing Forest Park municipal employees, the result of negotiations between Village Administrator Tim Gillian and the heads of the groups amid seriously reduced tax revenue flow related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the May 26 village council meeting, Mayor Rory Hoskins and Commissioners Joe Byrnes, Ryan Nero and Jessica Voogd voted to ratify the side letter agreements with the terms of the concessions. Commissioner Dan Novak voted against doing so.
Three of the four unions agreed to delay raises due May 1, 2020. The Forest Park firefighters, Local 2753, agreed to postpone their 2.5 percent raise until Aug. 1. In consideration of the delayed wage increase, the village agreed that no member of the bargaining unit would be laid off during the time of the delay.
AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), which includes village clerical staff, also agreed that their 2.5 percent raise, due May 1, would be delayed until Aug. 1.
The automobile mechanics’ union, which currently only includes one employee, also agreed to postpone the May 1 raise.
The police department, however, negotiated a 1.75 percent raise, effective May 1, instead of the 2.75 percent raise their contract promised. The 1.75 percent will be effective until Nov. 1, at which time the additional 1 percent will go into effect. Until that time, the village agreed not to lay off any personnel in the union.
Gillian said he had asked the unions for concessions because of the financial situation the village was in.
“We could tell [the pandemic] was going to be much more than just a couple of weeks, and we were going to be in many ways shutting off all the revenue streams,” said Gillian, referring to both village choices to turn off paid parking on Madison Street, for example, as well as state and county funding drying up. “I went to each of the unions and asked them to help. I’m happy to say that all four unions that were due wage increases starting May 1 agreed in one form or another to provide some relief to the village.”
“All of the employees are to be commended,” said Gillian. “They didn’t need to do any of this. Frankly, it wasn’t a real hard sell. They by and large were agreeable right from the start.”
He also reported that all non-union employees at village hall, including department heads, agreed to no raises through 2020.
Novak, however, had questions related to the inconsistency in agreements between the bargaining units, the dollar amount of savings for the village, and the total legal cost of the negotiations.
In terms of inconsistency, he questioned why the different units were delaying raises for different amounts of time.
“Some people are doing three months. Some are doing six months. Some are doing no raise for 12 months,” said Novak.
Village attorney Nick Peppers said each union negotiates independently of one another, so the results will be different.
Gillian said getting concessions of any kind is good for the village.
“I would have loved to have gotten a year out of all of them, but it just wasn’t to be,” Gillian said, adding that any concessions from the unions is beneficial to the village during this crisis.
Another complaint Novak had was not being given an exact number of how much the village will save through these concessions.
In a mostly civil back-and-forth filled with underlying tension, Novak repeatedly asked for the dollar savings for the village granted by the concessions.
“But what’s the number, is my question,” said Novak.
Gillian said Novak and the other commissioners had been given the number in an email from Letitia Olmsted, the village finance director.
The village estimated it will save $171,156 through concessions, furloughs and holds on wage increases for non-union employees. In the May 20 email from Olmsted to the commissioners, forwarded to the Review by Gillian, the breakdown is as follows:
- Police Department: 30 full-time employees and two furloughed employees. The full-time employees will take a six-month raise reduction of 1 percent, resulting in a 1.75 percent raise rather than the planned 2.75 percent raise. The two furloughed employees were being paid full time while attending the police academy when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the academy was suspended. Using six months as the assumed savings on these employees, an estimate based on when the academy might start up again, the total estimated savings in straight wages is $79,760.
- Fire Department: 20 full-time employees. The three-month concession to a zero percent wage increase equates to wage savings of $12,131.
- AFSCME: 21 fulltime employees and eight part-time employees, most of whom are currently not working. For the full-time employees, three months at a zero percent raise instead of the 2.5 percent planned raise comes out to a savings of $5,120 in wages. Assuming three months before the part-time employees begin work again results in an additional $26,200 in savings, for a combined total of $31,320 in savings for straight wages.
- Local 701, the mechanic’s union, has one full-time employee. The six-month reduction from a 2.5 percent increase to 1.5 percent increase will result in a savings of $345 for the year.
- Non-union: 20 full-time employees who agreed to taking no raise in 2020, 50 part-time employees. Currently, the only part-time employees working are part-time police. Assuming the other part-time employees return in three months, a savings of $47,600 is estimated.
- Public Works, Local 705: 14 full-time employees whose contract expired on April 30 and is still in discussion.
Novak, however, objected to the assumptions made in these estimates, assumptions on when employees might return to work and estimates associated with those guesses.
“You have the number there,” said Gillian. “I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for. Each of these unions gave us something they didn’t have to. Frankly, they could have all said, ‘too bad.’ The reality is that … we could have gotten nothing.”
“The number has assumptions written through every point,” said Novak. “Assumption, assumption, assumption!”
Additionally, he wanted to know the legal costs associated with the negotiations to ensure they weren’t greater than the savings.
Hoskins asked Peppers if it was safe to assume that the savings outweighed the legal fees, which Gillian had explained were minimal since the attorneys weren’t involved in the negotiations, only in writing up the side letters themselves.
Peppers replied: “I can categorically tell you that if the savings is $171,000, yes… Our office did not get involved in the meat of the negotiations. We only got involved in the very end to codify the resolution for the side letter approvals.”
When Hoskins was about to call for the vote, he said to the commissioners, “So you were given the number…”
But he was interrupted by Novak. “I don’t know the number! I have an assumption number! And I’m asking for it tonight before you call my vote.”
“Whether or not there’s a number with some assumptions built into it, it seems like a win for the village,” said Hoskins.