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Harper Woods and police and fire unions reach new OPEB agreement

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published June 18, 2020

File photo

HARPER WOODS — The city of Harper Woods reached a new agreement with its police and fire unions regarding other post-employment benefits that both the unions and city said they found favorable.

Although seeing how contracts can be renegotiated is a fairly common occurrence in cities, Acting City Manager John Szymanski said the results of the arbitration will save the city millions of dollars in the long run.

“The city received its actuarial evaluation regarding other post-employment benefits,” Szymanski said. “We won a favorable arbitration award, which will save us $22 million in future obligations. This will result in us not having to pay $500,000 each year to a state of Michigan-sanctioned trust fund.”

He went on to say that this agreement will prevent the city from having to take drastic measures to keep its budget within state guidelines.

“This means we will be able to avoid layoffs of police and fire personnel, as well as other city staff,” Szymanski explained. “It’s over with and finalized, and we received actuarial results to show this will mean big savings for the city. It took us down from $48 million in future obligation a year to about $26 million.”

Ted Stager, president of the command officers union of the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety, said all parties were satisfied with the result.

“Yeah, it was resolved well,” he said. “I think both sides were happy with the outcome. I know our command union members were satisfied with the ruling.”

The key point, according to Stager, was that the city was remaining financially responsible while still ensuring its police and fire services remained strong.

“Our No. 1 priority is to supply necessary safety resources to the community,” he said. “Whatever saves the city money and ensures residents still have a fully functioning safety department is something we support.”

The changes included how health care costs for retirees are distributed.

“We made significant changes to retiree health care costs for future city employee retirees,” said Szymanski. “Instead of offering health care for future retirees, we will offer a flat fee stipend instead, which they can use to purchase their own insurance.”

The changes should affect even employees not in the unions who are still part of the police and fire departments.

“We were in arbitration with our command officers association of Michigan, and it was accepted by all the other unions in the city,” said Szymanski. “This also will apply to employees not belonging to unions or not covered by union contract.”

Szymanski stressed how important the agreement was in ensuring the future well-being of Harper Woods.

“It was a five-day arbitration,” he said. “It was a breakdown in union negotiations that made this necessary. This could have put the city in bankruptcy if we didn’t get this resolved. We now live to serve our residents another day.”