BETHLEHEM The Town of Bethlehem and its telecommunicators union have come to a three-year contract agreement after going a full year without a contract in place.
The contract includes a 2 percent salary increase beginning in January for 2014, but the town’s emergency dispatchers will not receive a cost of living increase for the two years prior. In return, the town agreed to increase tuition reimbursement from a maximum of $2,000 a year to a maximum of $4,000 a year and supply four uniforms per year instead of two.
“I was very glad we could reach agreements with two of the three public safety unions,” said Supervisor John Clarkson. “These agreements involved some give and take on both sides, but the result was fair and reasonable.”
Union members will also contribute more towards their health insurance premiums. Staring in 2014, members will contribute 10 percent for individual coverage and 20 percent for family coverage. This will result in an immediate savings of $1,600 to the town, with a savings of $14,000 over the lifespan of the contract.
“Obviously, it is not what we wanted,” said Telecommunications Union President Jenn Peters. “We are getting no raises until 2014, which is tough, and we have to deal with the health insurance increases that will cancel each other out, but we realize the sergeants didn’t get a much better contract.”
Peters said she feels understaffing is still a major issue that needs to be addressed because overtime is being used regularly. The Police Department previously operated with 12 dispatchers and a supervisor. Through attrition, there are now nine employees and no supervisor. A union goal had been to regain staffing levels or add positions.
“Going into negotiations is frustrating because they’re not willing to work with us,” Peters said. “There’s been a huge change in working conditions for us, and obviously there is a huge fiscal element to it and I get that completely and wholeheartedly. We try to come to fair agreements. We went there with few demands and asked for nothing extravagant.”