Fresno City Hall, blue-collar workers reach tentative deal

The Fresno BeeApril 28, 2014 

In a June 2013 file photo, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin attends a Yes on Measure G party at Central Valley Business Incubator.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE

One of the fiercest labor fights in Fresno's history appears to be near an end.

Members of the city's blue-collar union have approved a contract offer that has them paying more toward their pensions and health-care premiums.

Marina Magdaleno, business representative for Stationary Engineers Local 39, declined to give vote totals. She said negotiations shouldn't have dragged on for two years.

"We could have settled this a long time ago," Magdaleno said. "But the city dug in its heels. Despite all that, we're ready to move forward. We'll make the best of a bad situation."

City Manager Bruce Rudd said the City Council will review the deal in closed session Thursday. A vote in open session could come later in May, he said.

"We'll see what happens -- there are no guarantees," Rudd said.

Local 39 and Mayor Ashley Swearengin fought bitterly over the mayor's effort to privatize the home trash service. That conflict began in 2012, and Local 39 won when voters in June rejected privatization in the Measure G election.

Tension could return this summer when Swearengin and the City Council are expected to review possible hikes to utility bills -- wastewater, water, trash, community sanitation. City Hall must decide what to do with any labor savings and whether to pursue infrastructure improvements. As in the Measure G campaign, ratepayers will be at the heart of the debate.

Local 39 has about 600 members serving in divisions as diverse as airports, parks, wastewater, water and residential trash. Magdaleno said the three-day vote was held last week.

Magdaleno listed these key deal points:

-- Most provisions take effect May 19. The deal runs through June 30, 2016.

-- Members will pay an additional four percentage points toward their pensions until Jan. 1, 2016. This will reduce the city's contribution by a similar amount.

-- On Jan. 1, 2016, the members' additional pension payments will drop to two percentage points. This will drop to zero when the contract ends at the end of June 30, 2016.

-- Members will pay 25% of current health-care premiums, beginning July 1. They now pay 20%. The city pays the rest.

-- Future increases in health-care premiums will be split 50-50 by members and the city.

-- If another bargaining unit gets a better health-care deal, Local 39 gets it, too.

Local 39 has been working without a contract since July 1, 2012. Administration and union officials reached a tentative deal last September, but Local 39 members narrowly rejected it.

Magdaleno said any wage reduction was a deal-killer. She said the negotiating logjam was broken when both sides agreed to maintain wage levels in exchange for higher employee pension contributions.

"Is it a good contract? No," Magdaleno said. "But the employees are team players."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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