City of Ketchikan officials have been negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since September without finding common ground.
Two separate labor agreements between the city and IBEW, and between Ketchikan Public Utilities and IBEW expired at the end of 2014. The Ketchikan City Council has two executive sessions Thursday to talk about the status of negotiations, and to provide direction to city management.
Union members and their supporters packed last week’s Ketchikan City Council meeting, with speakers arguing that public employee wages aren’t keeping up with expenses.
Jay Rhodes, the local IBEW representative, told the Council that every year, the labor of city employees is worth less than the year before, “because that’s what happens when wages don’t keep pace with the cost of living.
“Last year, $35,000 was spent on a compensation study that showed most every city employee to be underpaid, some substantially,” he said, adding that the city’s current wages make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified employees. He asked Council members to consider that when they talk with management about contract negotiations.
KPU employee Tom Harrell told the Council that city employees are passionate about their jobs, and many get out in terrible weather to maintain or restore various services. He asked the Council to at least consider a cost-of-living increase that reflects inflation.
“The cost of living goes up at least 3 percent a year, and we haven’t even seen that, and I’ve been here five years,” he said. “A lot of times it’s been 1, 1 and zero (percent). I’m just asking to please reconsider and listen to us.”
City Council Member DeAnn Karlson asked for suggestions on where to find the money for higher salaries.
“Where would we get the extra money for it? That’s the question that we’re all dealing with,” she said. “Because if we raise taxes or suggest new revenue streams, we have a whole different crowd of people in here going, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ So, if there are other avenues or opportunities that we’re overlooking, we would love to hear about those as well.”
The two executive sessions are scheduled for the end of Thursday’s meeting.
During open session, the City Council will discuss moving forward with Phase II of the
long-planned Hopkins Alley revitalization project. That’s a joint effort involving the city, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and property owners in the Hopkins Alley area.
The new phase calls for the city and borough to each contribute $25,000. The motion in front of the Council asks for preliminary approval of the proposed plan.
A study of the failing Spruce Mill retaining wall also is in front of the Council tomorrow. The study identifies five options, ranging in cost from $2.1 to $8.28 million. The study was conducted by PND Engineers, and a representative of the firm is expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.