Contract agreements between the city of Jamestown and the unions representing its 60 police officers and 58 firefighters are an encouraging development.
Salaries for the contracts will include a 2 percent increase for 2012, no increase for 2013 and a 2.75 percent increase for both 2014 and 2015. That is a total of a 7.5 percent increase that averages out to around 1.8 percent a year. Both unions agreed to a new health care plan for active and retired members. For both unions, members will pay 17 percent of their health care premium in 2014, 1 percent higher than the current rate. Starting in 2015, a new wellness program will start where those who participate will pay 17 percent of their health insurance costs. If a union member doesn't participate in the wellness program they will pay 22 percent.
It is no secret that employee costs are a major driver of Jamestown's budget each year. It is also no secret that New York state's Taylor Law and it's Triborough Amendment make unilaterally rolling back employee costs impossible. The only way for Jamestown to save money in the long run is through negotiating agreements such as these.
It also is no secret that Jamestown officials and their employee unions haven't always had the most cordial contract negotiations. The contentious relationship has included court cases and arbitration hearings in the past two decades. These negotiations dragged on two years after the previous contracts expired, and the threat of going to arbitration was very real.
Instead, the sides compromised. Neither side got everything they wanted, as is common in negotiated settlements. Both sides got an agreement they can live with.
These agreements don't mean city officials and union negotiators will always agree. It does mean Jamestown is finding ways to reach tough agreements that are acceptable to workers and beneficial to taxpayers, even in the face of age-old disagreements.
That is news worth celebrating.