The Kenai Borough Employees Association announced last week it had reached a tentative agreement with the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration on terms of a three-year collective bargaining agreement.
Terry Bookey, Central Emergency Services captain and union negotiating team chair, said the two sides met about 20 times in the process of reaching the agreement that he said both sides will likely find beneficial to run from fiscal years 2013 to 2016.
“It was very smooth,” he said of the negotiations. “We had lots of really good discussion and frank conversation about the needs of the borough and the needs of the employees, and through the mutual respect that we have for one another we were able to have a good discussion that resulted in what we believe is a fair collective bargaining agreement.”
Bookey said the union will have several meetings to consider the proposed contract before voting on it. It will then be presented to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for consideration, at which time it will become a public document and be available for review.
Specific details of the contract are not made available by either side until that time, Bookey said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the contract was fair, moderate and that he’ll support it when it goes to the assembly.
“What happens in negotiations is that you start from where things are, you start from the status quo and then from the union side they are trying to get more for their members,” he said.
“From the borough side we are trying to make sure we pass something that’s fair and recognizes the value of the employees, but at the same time can fit within the budget because that’s one of the big costs for any organization whether it is public or private.”
Borough Chief of Staff and contract negotiator Paul Ostrander said health care and salary were the two biggest issues the borough and union discussed during the months of negotiations.
“Everything else in the contract, there were issues that we worked through and requests that the union had and counter offers that we made,” he said. “We worked through all of those and it came down to wages and health care.”
Those two issues were very connected, Ostrander said.
“The recognition was that the employees needed to pay more for premiums, we needed to bump that contribution amount up over time and over the course of the contract,” he said. “The other part of that is the wage component, because if they are paying more for premiums then that obviously affects their wages, so the wages come into play.”
Navarre said he “wouldn’t be opposed” to having the negotiations open to the public in the future considering how much taxpayer money is on the table.
“I would want to talk to my negotiating team about … whether that’s helpful or not,” he said. “But, the reality is that even when they are open, there is not a lot of public participation in those discussions.”
“I’m not sure what it would require to even change that, but I would be open to the idea of it being open,” he said. “It impacts taxpayers directly so it makes some sense that if they wanted to be there and listen to the negotiations that they’d be able to.”
Bookey disagreed, adding there are many other union negotiations that are closed to the public and that there are benefits to not having them open.
“Frankly, I think there was a lot less positioning that happens when it is not open to the public,” he said. “You can have more frank conversation — one side is not trying to position itself.”
Moreover, Bookey said the union took public impact and the agreement’s eventual reception into account while behind closed doors with the administration.
“Before this agreement is actually approved it goes through the public process of an assembly meeting,” he said. “The sides aren’t negotiating with the public. The public has the borough’s team looking out for their behalf.”