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City’s deal with white-collar workers does win some key changes in benefits

The agreement between Buffalo and the city’s white-collar union marks the second contract the administration has negotiated winning some concessions from this union.

Mayor Byron W. Brown and the union deserve credit for reaching this important agreement. That concessions weren’t greater speaks to the power of public-sector unions in Western New York.

The contract calls for a 17 percent pay increase over eight years, an average of just over 2 percent a year. The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2011, and lasts through June 30, 2019. In return for those hefty pay increases, the contract ends retiree health insurance for employees hired after March 1.

The contract also ends the ridiculous practice of summer hours, which allowed white-collar workers to work 30 minutes less a day during summer months. Even that concession carried a price: those employees will get an additional eight hours in personal time off.

The agreement has been ratified by Local 650, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and will go to the Common Council for approval. About 430 Local 650 employees are affected, as well as 115 exempt employees.

The previous agreement with the white-collar workers came in 2008. With that deal, new hires have had to pay some of their health insurance premiums and have been placed on a salary ladder that takes two years longer to reach top scale.

This latest agreement has a future – perhaps decades into the future – upside for taxpayers in the elimination of retiree health insurance for new hires. But current employees still will not be required to make any contribution to health care in retirement.

However, it is not unreasonable for the mayor to trumpet the hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings – eventually. As he said, this will be the first city contract in which retiree health insurance is eliminated for new employees. If it sets a precedent, as he hopes, there will be huge savings for taxpayers.

The union, perhaps recognizing the still-sluggish economy, did the right thing in accepting the deal. Long, drawn-out negotiations postpone raises and create ill will. Firefighters turned down two good contract offers in 2007 and 2008 before finally coming to an agreement five years later.

The police contract continues to be a challenge for the administration. The police union should come to the realization other unions have reached and finally negotiate a contract that is reasonable for its members, but more important, reasonable for taxpayers.