City councilors approved a new two-year contract for the union that represents most City Hall workers that provides 3 percent annual raises and introduces employee cost-sharing on health insurance for the first time.
The council voted 6-1 in favor of the deal with Local 233 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with the sole opposition coming from freshman Republican Ken Cockayne.
The pact, which is retroactive to July 2007, requires workers to pay 4 percent of their health insurance premiums until next July, when they’ll be required to cover 5 percent of the tab.
That’s less than the police union agreed to pay in a deal approved a year ago that hiked the percentage officers have to pay to 8.5 percent of the total by 2010, the highest figure that any city union outside the school system has to shell out.
Cockayne said that he couldn’t support the new agreement with City Hall workers because they got a better deal than the police, a pact he also opposed because he wanted officers to pay at least 10 percent of their health care tab.
The city’s police and firefighters should have best contracts “since they’re putting their lives on the line,” Cockayne said, but instead the city’s office workers are making out best.
The head of Local 233, Mayra Sampson, is a former city Democratic Party chair and a longtime supporter of Mayor Art Ward.
Ward said that he’s pleased that the union is going to pay a portion of its health care bill for the first time.
The mayor said, too, that the deal amounts to about $300 to $400 extra a year for the average employee. He said it represents “no great gains on either side” when compared to what government employees in neighboring towns are getting.
“It’s within reason,” said Ward.
Cockayne said, however, that Bristol’s health care costs haring for employees “is way under our neighboring towns and it’s my duty as a councilman to do the best that I can for the taxpayers of this city” so he voted against the pact.
Cockayne said supporters of the contract terms said the city made inroads by getting the union to pay anything for health care. He said that it should have been more and that it’s not his fault that earlier deals were so generous to the union.
“Past administrations have not given away the kitchen sink. They’ve given away the whole kitchen,” Cockayne said.
He said that in today’s struggling economy, when so many families in Bristol are living paycheck to paycheck at best, it’s not fair to ask them for more tax money to provide such generous contracts.
“How can we expect them to keep picking up the tab?” Cockayne asked.
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