Two contracts that provide a cost-of-living adjustment for Ashland city employees covered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions were approved Tuesday without unanimous support from the Ashland City Council.
According to meeting materials, negotiations resulted in a compromise between the city of Ashland and labor representatives from the two unions: IBEW Clerical/Technical and IBEW Electrical Union Local 659 representing the machinist and laborer.
Regarding the city of Ashland’s financial situation, according to meeting materials, both unions agreed to changes in benefits, namely an increase in their health care deductibles. Workers can expect a 1500/4500 deductible plan as opposed to the previous 500/1500 deductible plan.
For the first two years of both IBEW contracts, employees will receive a 4 percent pay raise, dropping to a 3 percent raise in the final year of the contract, according to meeting materials.
The general fund will absorb much of the cost, but because IBEW employees work in departments such as public works and utilities, commission funds, such as the wastewater fund, specific to those departments will also absorb the cost .
Deputy City Manager and Acting Human Resources Director Sabrina Cotta explained to City Council that the city will also offset increased payroll costs through vacancy savings, but the changes will have to be adjusted in the next budget biennium.
Councilor Shaun Moran read a statement he had prepared for the occasion.
Having qualified staff is essential, especially for a small town, he said. Staff need to feel engaged and equipped with the tools they need. But the Ashland staff is already well taken care of.
In light of the structural deficit, caused by years of overspending, staffing is the single largest cost component and must be addressed, he said. If inflation reduces the wages of city staff, it also reduces the wages of other citizens of Ashland.
Councilwoman Gina DuQuenne referred to the number of people who lost the financial ability to live in Ashland during the pandemic as an exodus and stated that she could not support the salary increases for city employees because it would burden the citizens of Ashland.
“I appreciate the reality that a lot of local people are dealing with, with inflation,” Councilwoman Tonya Graham said, “but that’s not related to the job market that this city operates in.”
To fill vacancies in Ashland government with qualified staff, salary increases are necessary, he said.
“We’ve had 25 resignations since January 2022, that immediately caught my eye,” Councilwoman Paula Hyatt said, referring to the meeting materials.
Many of Ashland’s city employees are also people who live in Ashland, Hyatt said, and even if they don’t, the valley is becoming a regional network where things don’t stop at the border.
“How is it possible for everyone to be right?” Mayor Julie Akins asked.
It’s true, he said, that Ashland needs to stay competitive; all industries struggle to attract and keep people, and staying competitive isn’t necessarily related to the struggles of financially burdened Ashlanders.
But how are those in Ashland who are struggling supposed to feel when they see city employees getting the raises they’re paying for? Akins said.
Moran and Duquenne voted against the motion while the rest of the council voted in favor.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.