Politics & Government

Lakewood makes peace with union after 1 1/2 years without contract

After almost two years of negotiations, the city of Lakewood has reached an agreement on a contract with roughly 100 employees, the last and largest in a series of labor agreements in Pierce County’s second-largest city.

The City Council unanimously approved the contract Monday night. It is retroactive to the old contract’s expiration at the end of 2012.

The contract agrees to a 3 percent cost-of living-increase for 2014, 2015 and 2016, but the raise is not retroactive to 2013.

It also stipulates employees will have to move to a high-deductible health care plan requiring a health savings account in 2016, or pay more for a plan without a health savings account.

The contract covers roughly 100 positions including blue- and white-collar employees in a variety of positions at City Hall, public works, parks and municipal court.

Employees approved the four-year contract June 9. Of those in attendance for the union vote, 65 voted in favor while 11 were opposed. With majority approval, the next step was council action.

Negotiations began almost two years ago. AFSCME Local 1938 eventually requested outside mediation.

The AFSCME contract was the last of four labor contracts with the city needing resolution.

The city reached an agreement in August 2013 with its second-largest bargaining unit, the Lakewood Police Independent Guild, which represents 90 commissioned police officers.

The police agreement included consecutive 3 percent pay increases for 2013, 2014 and 2015. The police contract is one year shorter than the AFSCME contract and does not require employees to move to a health savings account for health care in its final year.

Nonunion employees at the city already have health savings accounts and have not had cost-of-living increases in recent years, City Manager John Caulfield said.

Monday’s vote came less than two months after city employees attended a City Council meeting expressing frustration with what they said were stagnant contract negotiations.

Discussions picked up after the public demonstration, said Dylan Carlson, representative of AFSCME Local 1938.

“Following that, we did notice a substantial change in the tenor of bargaining and an increased desire to get the contract resolved,” he said.

Caulfield said the employee presence at that meeting had no bearing on the pace of negotiations.

He said things had slowed down because of the mediation process requested by employees.

Satisfied to have finally reached an agreement, Carlson said Monday he still hopes to see the city narrow the gap in pay between some Lakewood positions that are underpaid compared to similar organizations.