Madison Heights settles labor contracts with police and fire

One-year extension includes pay raise, changes to health care split

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 26, 2017

MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights City Council recently approved tentative labor agreements with the city’s three public safety bargaining groups.

Council voted June 12 on the new terms for police officers, police command and firefighters, after each of the three unions had already voted whether to sign the deal. All three groups had voting majorities approving a one-year deal.

“Now that the police and firefighters have led the way, the city bargaining team will finalize negotiations with the bargaining groups in other departments,” said Mayor Brian Hartwell, in an email.

The one-year deal includes an across-the-board 2 percent pay raise — something City Council had planned for in the new budget by reserving money for labor groups willing to strike a deal.

Another agreement with the unions was the adjustment of the cost-sharing model on health care insurance premiums, reducing what the employees pay. The cost has shifted from an 80/20 split to a 90/10 split.

“Just like employees in the private sector, we expect our municipal employees to contribute to the cost of their insurance,” Hartwell said. “Several employees, especially those with families, asked the city to provide a relief on the cost-sharing model.”

Hartwell said that as an employer, Madison Heights wants employees who will spend their entire careers employed with the city.

“Providing a fair and competitive benefits package is key to retaining trained employees and attracting the best new recruits,” Hartwell said.

The mayor noted how the publication GoodCall recently reviewed data from 835 cities across the nation and ranked Madison Heights No. 24 overall as a best place in the U.S. for first responders to live and work, and “we intend to keep it that way,” he said.

The mayor also pointed out that many of the city’s firefighters retired in the wake of the Great Recession, and the new recruits have made the Fire Department younger and fitter. With new leaders come new ideas, he said.

“The union leadership, by getting its members to accept the new agreement, demonstrated they deeply care about the health and safety of Madison Heights residents,” Hartwell said.

Ray Gilson, union president of Madison Heights Firefighters Association Local 1357, said that the bargaining process went fairly smoothly.

“It’s a short, quick and sweet resolution for everyone. We didn’t want to pass it up,” Gilson said. “We took on the one-year extension, and we’ll address other issues later on.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said the agreement also includes a vesting provision for the health care savings plan. Now the funds in an employee’s account are theirs after five years, instead of seven years, regardless of whether the employee leaves employment.

“This is the second round of bargaining since I’ve been on council, and in both cases we were able to quickly come to a fair agreement that was able to take care of our employees in a way that’s still fiscally responsible in today’s climate,” Bliss said in an email. “It was a good process, and I’m proud of how all those involved approached this positively and proactively.

“It was important to start with public safety,” he said. “We’ll now turn our attention to completing agreements with the rest of our unions.”

Ed Malak, union president of the Madison Heights Police Officers Association, an independent group with no local number, said the shift in the health care cost-sharing model was a nice surprise.

“The 90/10 split, cut from 80/20 — that’s a nice big chunk of change a lot of our guys were paying,” Malak said. “It’s getting more and more difficult to attract people (to police work), and I think the city is realizing that too, and trying to make it more appealing to people who might want to come here if the insurance is a bit cheaper and the benefits a bit better.

“The only negative, I’d say, is we would’ve liked to see a longer deal than just one year, because we’ll be right back to it in a matter of months,” he said. “But it still had a lot of support amongst our guys. They were very receptive to it.”

City Councilman Robert Corbett said the deal is similar to those in neighboring communities.

“Members of the police and fire departments are receiving a compensation package that is fair to both the officers and the community,” Corbett said in an email. “While it is a one-year agreement, I believe this allows the city to plan its finances in this fluid and ever-changing economic climate.

“This also ensures Madison Heights will be able to attract and retain quality public safety officers going forward,” he said. “Much credit for this successful negotiation goes to the team representing the community and the unions.”
Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.