Friday June 28, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The town and its municipal employees’ union have ratified a new, two-year labor agreement that will keep employees’ health care contributions level and provide modest wage increases.

The Select Board voted to support the negotiated deal at a regular meeting on Monday. The union, which represents about 60 town public works and police employees, ratified the deal on Wednesday.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said wages and health care were the main negotiated points in the deal. Employees will receive a 2.75 percent pay raise in fiscal year 2014 followed by a 2.5 percent increase in fiscal year 2015.

Under the current, one-year agreement, employees received a 3 percent pay increase. Hurd said the lower increases over the next two years were based on what the town could afford. He said the fiscal year 2014 budget had already been passed before negotiations were complete.

The two sides negotiated health care benefits but ultimately opted to leave the current plan mostly in place, according to Hurd. Both sides agreed to see how reform efforts at the state and federal level play out before seeking major changes. Health care options may be "dramatically" different in two years, he said.

"The board decided to leave the health care alone and not seek anything additional from employees because it’s likely to change soon," Hurd said.


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"We didn’t want to go beyond that point so we all would better understand."

A minor change in the health care plan allowed for slightly higher pay raises. Hurd said a change that will have employees pay more out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits and prescriptions -- but allows them to reach their deductibles sooner -- freed up about $30,000 more for raises.

"That provided sufficient funds to move from something in the range of 2 percent to something a little higher," Hurd said. "We’d only had sufficient funds for about 2 percent for all employees, so there had to be some give on their side as well."

Employees who receive a special commercial driver’s license, or CDL-A, can earn 5 cents per hour more in the second year of the agreement, Hurd said. The town is trying to encourage employees to receive the license that allows them to operate town vehicles and tow larger trailers.

The labor agreement works well for the town and employees, Hurd said. "I’m pleased. I think my board is pleased with he outcome, and I think the union -- because they supported the outcome -- is pleased as well."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami