Weather Forecast


City Council OKs contract with law enforcement union

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council Monday night approved a two-year employment contract with Law Enforcement Labor Services Inc., the union representing the city's 32 Police Department officers.

The agreement was recommended by the council's Labor Relations Committee. The committee met June 26 and held a 43-minute closed session with labor attorney Frank Madden of Plymouth to discuss labor negotiation strategies, said committee Chair Steve Ahmann.

After the committee returned to open session, the committee reviewed the proposed terms of the contract, Ahmann reported to the council. He offered the motion, which the council supported 7-0, to approve the contract.

Ahmann said he and Madden had reviewed the contracts terms. Madden had noted that the union had met earlier in the day and approved the terms, which both sides supported in a June 18 mediation session.

Ahmann said the contract covers Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2014. The settlement provides a 1.5 percent general wage increase in 2013 and a 2 percent general wage increase in 2014.

The contract deletes a provision that had said the city will contribute up to 90 percent of the cost of health insurance.

New contract language states the city in 2012 will contribute $1,302 per month of the cost of monthly insurance premium for family coverage and any additional cost will be paid by the employee through payroll deduction.

For 2013 and annually thereafter, the contract continues the city's requirement for contributing up to 50 percent of the increase in the cost of the monthly premium, and any additional cost will be paid by the employees. But new language describes the formula calculating the increased cost.

Among other provisions, the contract increases the uniform allowance by $25 each for 2013 and 2014. Also, specialist pay is increased by $25 per month for 2013.

The contract took a number of months to resolve.

In an interview, City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the reason the contract took so long to settle is that the city went to mediation with the union in late 2011 to early 2012 for the 2011 and 2012 contract years.

The city was unsuccessful in mediation and went to arbitration. Stevens said the city received an arbitration award that dealt primarily with wages and insurance. Stevens said the 2011 and 2012 wages were implemented through the arbitration award, and the city appealed the insurance portion of the award. The appeal took a length of time to go through the court system and the city prevailed, she said.

Stevens said the city had another opportunity to go back with the same union and try to resolve the insurance issue through mediation

"While we were at it, we tried to resolve the 2013 and 2014 contract and we were able to resolve the insurance issues in mediation and the wage issues and a few other outstanding issues,'' said Stevens.

"We were in mediation, then arbitration and then mediation again,'' said Stevens. "But now we have a good contract, I think, and a fair contract and I think for both parties we have some labor stability through 2014.''

The contract with LELS was one of two contracts that consultant Richard Fursman in his recent organizational review of city operations recommended the city resolve. Fursman said the long-standing, unresolved union contract was impacting the city's work environment and was a factor contributing to the sense of a "broken culture.''

Stevens said the remaining unresolved contract covers department head, confidential and supervisory employees. She said that contract has been outstanding since 2010.

Council retreat

Fursman's report had also recommended, among other things, that the council hold an off-site planning retreat. The study said identifying changes that are desired in the organization's culture is crucial to the success of the organizational realignment.

Ahmann said during his committee report that he had asked Stevens if a date has been set for a council retreat. Stevens said that a date had not yet been set. But Stevens said she would be contacting council members to determine potential dates.

Stevens was directed by the council June 3 to begin plans for holding a council planning retreat to be held in the fall of 2013 at an offsite location, with a facilitator to be determined. The last time the council held a planning retreat was April 30, 2011, at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

Fursman had said identifying changes that are desired in the organization's culture is crucial to the success of the organizational realignment.

Fursman recommended the council have a couple of facilitated off-site retreats to establish or refine better working relationships between council members among themselves and the administrator.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150