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MEA Contract Negotiations Update

On April 3, we updated you that as a result of COVID-19, labor contract negotiations were effectively on hold for much of March and the first week of April.  However, the Mayor and City Council returned to closed session regarding negotiations on April 7 and April 21, and MEA has been hard at work on a daily basis communicating with City negotiators, the Mayor and City Councilmembers to advocate for a fair contract outcome.

As we also noted in that early April update — and as everybody is already painfully aware — the world has changed dramatically since we began these negotiations.  The result has essentially been two separate negotiation periods: pre-COVID and post-COVID.

Pre-COVID negotiations focused on strategies that could address employee recruitment and retention and the City’s pay disparity with other jurisdictions.  MEA and the City were trading proposals that included multi-year contract structures, across-the-board salary increases, special salary adjustments and flex allotment increases for employees who cover dependents and families.

The focus of post-COVID negotiations has been the City’s plummeting tax revenues, significant budget deficits in both the current fiscal year and FY21, dramatic budget cut proposals from the Mayor that include long-term operational closures and potential layoffs, and additional budget cuts that may be needed to close an even larger expected revenue gap based on a longer than expected economic shutdown.  Offsetting those challenges, the City’s receipt of substantial COVID relief funds from the federal government has been a bright spot but there is uncertainty and ongoing debate about exactly how those one-time funds can or will be used by the City.

In a nutshell, the COVID pandemic and resulting economic shutdown has essentially wiped out all the bargaining work done and progress made before March.   The City and all of its recognized employee organizations are already well past the “deadlines” previously set to conclude bargaining for FY21, because we were forced to effectively “start over” with a completely new economic reality.

On April 21, on the Mayor’s recommendation, the City Council voted in closed session that 1) based on the uncertainty of trying to predict the City’s economic future for any length of time, the City will only consider a one-year contract term; and 2) as a result of its COVID-related revenue and budget challenges, the City at this time will not agree to salary increases, general or special, in this bargaining cycle.

This vote by the Council is certainly a disappointment based on our pre-COVID legitimate expectations, but not a surprise under all the circumstances.

However, MEA has not thrown in the towel by any means.  We continue to focus our contract proposals on employee compensation and what the City needs to do to invest in its human capital, even in extremely difficult budget times.  And we have successfully fought proposals by some at the City to furlough City workers or cut pay to help balance the budget. 

With our big goals deferred until bargaining later this year with a new Mayor for a new contract effective in FY22, MEA has continued to work with the City’s negotiators to identify a basis for a tentative agreement on a one-year contract for FY21 which includes improvements in compensation forms other than salary increases.  At this point, it is still uncertain if such an agreement is possible.

We will likely know more by the end of next week.  Be assured that we are making every effort to salvage these negotiations by defining terms for a one-year contract that are fair to MEA-represented employees in this post-COVID world, and that the Mayor and City Council will approve based on current economic realities and uncertainties.

We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, call MEA if you need assistance with any issue.  Stay strong and stay safe.