The administration of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is relishing a modest victory in the labor wars -- but more serious challenges loom.
The City Council has approved a new contract with the union representing mid-level managers that could save thousands of dollars for the city's fragile general fund.
Among other things, the agreement calls for members of the City of Fresno Management Employees Association to pay more toward their pensions and changes the formula for city contributions to health-care premiums.
The deal goes through June 30, 2015. According to a staff report, the agreement delivers $136,400 in general fund savings in the fiscal year beginning next July 1.
The union with about 85 members is one of the city's smaller bargaining units. Division managers are among the employees it represents.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said some members of the union's negotiating team help write department budgets.
"They understand how deep a (financial) hole we've dug ourselves into," Rudd said.
That hole isn't as deep as it was a year ago. City officials are no longer talking about the possibility of bouncing paychecks.
But Swearengin and Rudd say the city isn't flush with cash. They want to leverage an uptick in the local economy into improved services, replenished reserves and additional employees in key departments such as police, fire and development.
The mayor and Rudd want to get there in part by recalibrating how the city compensates its workers. Swearengin outlined her vision nearly two years ago when she unveiled her Fiscal Sustainability Policy.
In a nutshell, the policy would put more pressure on employees' pocketbooks to relieve some of the stress on city coffers.
Swearengin and Rudd have two main options to achieve this: Mutual agreement with the unions or, when talks collapse, imposition of council-approved terms.
Rudd hopes the complex deal with the managers' union is like tipping the first domino in a row of them -- one by one, the bigger unions whose contracts offer substantially bigger savings will follow.
The managers' union deal "is significant," Rudd said. "We're hoping this will become the template for a number of other agreements."
The first big test of such optimism is just around the corner.
Stationary Engineers Local 39, the city's blue-collar union with about 600 members, saw its contract expire nearly 18 months ago. The two sides came close to a deal in September, but members narrowly rejected it.
Rudd and Local 39 business representative Marina Magdaleno said talks are at an impasse. The next step is mediation.
Neither side is talking about specific sticking points. The division of health care costs almost certainly is near the top.
Rudd said he and Magdaleno "will be talking right after the New Year."
Magdaleno said she'll be breathing fire. She said Rudd's talk of a "template" is mere camouflage for unfair "pattern" bargaining.
Said Magdaleno: "That's bull. Every contract should be different."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or email@example.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.