Williamsport City Council votes down proposed transit union contract
City Council voted 3 to 4 to vote down a proposed resolution for a five-year contract for River Valley Transit and its Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1496.
The sticking point for four council members was clearly denoted as a contract offering pay increases amounting to 14 percent over the term of the contract at a time with potentially harsh impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on city finances staring City Hall leadership in the face.
Voting against the proposed contract were Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, and Councilmen Adam Yoder, Jon Mackey, and Vincent Pulizzi. In favor were Council President Randall J. Allison, Councilwoman Liz Miele and Councilman David Banks.
The contract called for 3 percent pay raises for three years, followed by 5 percent split over the final two years. It covered labor for 51 in the union.
That produced a volley of arguments, including Mackey’s chiding statement as the city moves toward future negotiations with collective bargaining units representing fire and police.
“I’m not comfortable with anyone getting a raise, COVID or not,” Mackey said, adding it was time to “draw a line in the sand.”
“The city has to get out of the business of giving a lifetime of benefits,” he said.
“A counter-argument about the medical insurance benefits was made by Adam Winder, general manager of River Valley Transit, and Frank Perchinski, union president, both of whom said the employees received supplemental insurance and that could not be compared to the police and fire unions’ benefits packages.
Feeling the vote wasn’t heading in the union’s direction, Perchinski said the union contact was first of three for bargaining units and he didn’t believe it fair for the 51 employees to receive a bloody nose.
The union was asked to make concessions, he said, asking the city leaders where the revenues from the compressed natural gas and Trade and Transit I and II centres were in times when the union needed it.
Winder said the union originally asked for 5 percent salary increases over the life of the contract.
In terms of medical insurance, there is a tiered-system employee-contribution and sick leave changes to benefit the city, he said.
The concessions included removal of $5,000 bonus for signing up to work, and a $1,000 bonus for referrals to work for River Valley Transit.
The union negotiated in good faith with the city, including Mayor Derek Slaughter, Joellen Chappelle, human resources director, Christopher Cooley, information technology coordinator and Winder. The savings amounted close to $700,000, she said.
Winder also argued that the city department will receive $7.2 million in federal relief because of COVID-19 and $2.5 million from the state relief for the disease impact.
Municipal partners also contribute to the transit operating expenses and a grant for hazardous pay for individuals paid under $20-per-hour has been applied for, he said.
Yoder said his challenge in the vote was to balance what employees should receive with the possibility of the federal and state contributions toward River Valley Transit disappearing overnight. River Valley Transit gets 81 percent of the costs paid by federal and state agencies and, Yoder asked, “What if it goes away?”
“We have a massive obligation,” Yoder said. “At the end of the day, describing the post-retirement benefits and health care costs, for which the city remains on the hook.”
Chappelle noted the city has a contractural obligation with the union. She said the union and city went to great lengths to reach compromise and she called for the council to invest in their greatest asset – employees.
“We do appreciate the employees,” Katz said, pointing out the fiscal issues again because of the slowdown and shut downs caused by the virus.
“We may have layoffs,” she said. “Three percent gets me upset in my stomach.”