The Village of Hamburg may be on to something other municipalities will want to copy.
The village’s public works employees have agreed to major concessions in these tight economic times. While much of the impact will be felt in the future, the short-term peace of mind that comes with this cost savings has to be priceless.
The Village Board, of course, unanimously approved the contract, which reduces the top pay for new employees by up to 17 percent and requires new employees to pay 100 percent of their health insurance after they retire.
Fully paid retiree health insurance is considered a luxury in the private sector, but is still one of those benefits that long-time public employees have grown accustomed to. It also is one of the cost factors cited by municipal and school officials as a budgetary drag.
The village will continue to provide free health insurance for existing employees who retire before June 1, 2018, thus creating incentives for those who are thinking about ending their work careers. After that, existing workers must pay the same percentage of their health insurance that they were paying when they were employed.
The contract with CSEA Local 1000, Hamburg Public Works unit of Local 815, runs through May 31, 2018. In addition to the health and pension benefit concessions, it also reduces the top step for certain positions and reduces the number of personal and vacation days. The contract balances some of the concessions with pay increases, 2.6 percent in the first year and 2 percent for each of the following four years. Those numbers would be the envy of many private-sector workers who have gone years without raises or seen their pay reduced.
Contract negotiations have been particularly difficult in the public sector in recent years. There has been a tradition of plum benefits that were supposed to make up for comparatively lower pay compared to the private sector. That tradition of relatively low pay for public employees ended a long time ago.
Hamburg village public employees and officials were able to reach an agreement that was eluded other municipalities. The effort should be applauded and repeated elsewhere.