HUBBARD Unions, officials debate insurance

City workers already pay part of their health costs, a union president notes.
HUBBARD -- Unions representing city workers are seeking 3 percent pay raises while avoiding having to pay a portion of their health-insurance premiums.
"I thought it was pretty fair," Joseph Sheridan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1256, says of the union's offer.
Local 1256 represents 29 workers in the light, street, water and sewer departments. Their contract expired Tuesday.
Patrol Officer Dennis Devine, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 132, declined to discuss specific bargaining proposals, although police have reportedly offered to settle for a 3 percent wage increase this year and retaining the same health benefits with no additional cost to workers.
Sheridan said the city's negotiator found his offer unacceptable as the city looks for employees to pay a larger share of their premiums.
Sheridan said the average member in his union is paid $12 an hour, but he knows of one with three children being paid $8 hourly. Making ends meet with that pay is pretty hard, Sheridan said.
Late start
The AFSCME president said negotiations were supposed to begin in October, but the city didn't hire the Cleveland law firm of Johnson and Angelo in time to open bargaining then.
The first bargaining session wasn't until Dec. 6.
A fact finder will be brought into the process Tuesday. If the union isn't satisfied with the fact finder's opinion, the union will declare an impasse and issue a strike notice.
"Hopefully, it won't come to that," Sheridan said.
The FOP contract also expired last Tuesday; the police have agreed to an extension until March.
Police and the city have had only one bargaining session.
Already paying
Devine said health coverage is a "major issue" but pointed out that city employees already pay 20 percent of such costs as doctor appointments.
At the same time, the FOP is attempting to avoid layoffs, Devine added.
Mayor George Praznik won't discuss specifics of bargaining, but he noted that keeping medical costs down "is one of the issues."
The mayor said he realizes taxpayers are looking at government leaders to keep employee costs at a minimum, especially in light of a sour economy and layoffs and pay freezes in private business.
"I don't blame the people for being upset" with employee costs, Praznik said. "This [city government] is a business."
Praznik said he's so concerned with costs that he will veto any attempt by city council to increase his $29,500 annual salary.
The budget
Council has approved a nearly $1.7 million general-fund budget that doesn't include the appropriation of some $580,000 that has accumulated over the years in the general fund.
Auditor Michael Villano said he hopes they won't have to tap that money to operate the city, although some money has been set aside for pay raises.
Council President John Darko has suggested that the city's 1 percent income tax rate be increased, something that hasn't happened since 1972.

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