By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor
Davison City DPW had a long relationship with their former union, but with a rotation of three new labor representatives in less than 3 years, they decided to switch representation to the GELC. That move from American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to GELC in September 2021 paid off in their first GELC-negotiated contract.
“Our biggest fight was that they were trying to get rid of the Defined Benefit pension system for new hires and, through perseverance, we were able to save it,” said Local Union Chief Steward Chris Brandon.
“The Employer proposed to freeze the current pension plan,” said GELC Labor Rep. Christopher Watts. “They then tried to convert new Employees to a Defined Contribution (DC) only. The bottom line is they proposed to shut the Defined Benefit (DB) down and give more of a contribution on behalf of the new hires than the current Employees. We continued to challenge that nearly to fact finding.”
“At the end of the day they were proposing to contribute more to the new hires’ retirement plan than what they were putting into ours,” Brandon said. “None of it really made much sense to us.”
Thanks to the GELC, the Employer withdrew their pension proposal and continued with the DB pension plan for all DPW Employees. “The pension was ultimately left untouched,” Watts said. “They had come over to us because they didn’t feel as if they had a voice, and it took a year, but we stepped up, pushed back on the Employer and we ended up prevailing.”
“With the ASCME representation … we almost felt like there wasn’t a push to negotiate,” Brandon said. “It was almost like ‘Here’s what they’re offering. It seems like this is a good deal.’ Chris (Watts) was more like ‘What do you want? What do you need?’ Chris seemed more attentive to the things we were looking for and would go out and find information.”
The POLC’s stellar reputation with the City of Davison Police Department led members of that unit to highly recommend the sister Union to the six-member DPW unit. Davison City DPW did their homework before switching, calling other GELC-represented units. “We found out that GELC is the best there is and they’re on top of their game, willing to do whatever it takes to get the contract settled and keep their guys happy,” Brandon said. “We knew Chris had sat at the table before he became a GELC Rep. and was knowledgeable. Everyone we had talked to said he was the best guy for the job.”
The immediate assistance GELC provided the group, taking time to answer their questions before they joined the Union, solidified the move. “Anytime we had a question, we’ve been able to reach out before, during and after negotiations,” Brandon said. “He was more than attentive. Chris would say, ‘Here’s what I know. Here’s what I don’t know. Here’s what I’m going to find out. Let’s figure out the best course of action.’ Chris is willing to do what it takes to make sure we are represented correctly.”
The group wanted options for addressing contract concerns, so Watts provided them with specific examples of how the GELC handled similar contract issues with other Michigan municipalities.
“It didn’t feel like it was a cookie cutter contract,” Brandon said. “It felt like Chris was more involved and cared. We didn’t feel like a number.”
The group settled a new four-year agreement with nearly 10 percent in total raises. The contract includes a new pay scale, which makes it easier to reach the next level in pay. Previously, all Employees had to have specific water and sewer licenses to move up to the next step/range. The licensing requirements were eased to bring pay more in line with the types of work being done.
“They made it more appealing to get new Employees,” Brandon said. “We do everything, from water and sewer to maintaining roads and parks. If you only have three guys who are able to work at the water treatment plant, it’s unreasonable to make Employees from other areas obtain water treatment licenses. There’s no reason a guy who is never going to work in a water treatment plant should have to get those licenses.”
Davison City DPW received other retiree improvements including an annual Employer HSA contribution increase from $1,500 to $2,000 and an additional Employer annual contribution of $500 to each Employee’s 457 plan.