Antioch Council approves $9.2 million employee pay, benefits hike over five years

By Dave Roberts

Just a few years after the city of Antioch slashed its staff, closed City Hall one day a week and postponed pay increases to stave off bankruptcy, the city budget is apparently now so healthy that the City Council has authorized a sizeable pay and benefits hike for city employees over the next five years. The fiscal impact in the current year is $1,844,285, which adds up to $9.2 million over five years, although it will likely be higher due to future pay increases.

About 80% of the compensation increase will go to the police, including a 4.5% wage increase for sworn officers, and a 2.5% wage hike for non-sworn officers. Other union groups, including confidential employees, engineers and management, will receive annual pay hikes of 2-3% over the next five years. Various retirement and educational benefit increases are also included. The sworn police officer pay hikes are retroactive to Sept. 1 and extend through Aug. 31, 2021, and those for the police management unit begin March 1 of next year and run through Feb. 28, 2022. All the other employee contracts are retroactive to Oct. 1 and run through Sept. 30, 2021.

However, the staff report reads, “If the City Council adopts the Tentative Agreement, the parties will continue to prepare an MOU to memorialize and replace the Tentative Agreement. The existing MOU will continue as modified by the terms of the Tentative Agreement until the MOU is completed. When completed, the MOU will be submitted to City Council for approval and adoption.” So, the new contracts are not yet finalized.

Only one person, former council candidate Fred Rouse, questioned whether it’s wise for the council to make a five-year commitment to significantly increase employee costs. Rouse urged the council to hold off until a new council member, Lamar Thorpe, and possibly a new mayor, Sean Wright, assume office in December.

“It’s weird it’s coming to fruition now,” Rouse told the council. “I just think it’s really weird. You had a long runway. Do you really care about this city over your personal political wants? By paying labor agreements that lack actual funding is a knife in the back of Antioch before you are out the door. I hope the labor unions that you have talked to fully understand how bankruptcy of a city can impact personal incomes.

“Tonight you’re putting Antioch in a position of almost certain bankruptcy. We already carry major unfunded debt on our books, and now you add an additional burden for your successors to deal with. And that can only be seen as a political move. If you lay the groundwork tonight and hurt this city as I know you will, you will then be seen as knights in shining armor that can ride back in during the next election and pretend to save the day.

“Tonight your plan on taking advantage of a city that is already bruised, battered, underfunded, unsafe for what purpose? For the betterment of our city? Or for the appeasement of your political base to grease the skids for your future elections? Hold off on any vote and let the new council decide what is best in managing the budget, as they will hold the responsibility and accountability to our city for its future.”

But delaying the vote until December would likely have not made a difference. The council passed the pay/benefit hike agreements unanimously and three current members will still be on the council for at least two more years. All of the council members praised the agreements as the result of a long process of good-faith bargaining with employee unions and overdue payback for sacrifices the employees made during tough budgetary times.

“It was our employees that kept us from going bankrupt,” said Councilwoman Mary Rocha, who lost her bid for re-election. “It was our employees that knew what we were going through. And they stood by us, they took the cut and they’ve worked and they’ve double-worked. So at this time we have been doing the negotiation that’s been needed.

“It just happens that it’s coming at the time that maybe some people see it as, ‘Oh, wow, they are doing it ahead of time when they shouldn’t.’ But I just want to thank the employees. I have nothing to gain. I have lost my [election] campaign. But I’m still here present. And I want to make sure that we go forward with what we promised to do in the negotiation time.”

Mayor Wade Harper, who is trailing in his bid for re-election with votes remaining to be counted, agreed, saying, “It was the employees in the bargaining units that helped prevent us from going bankrupt as a city. We have to keep that in mind. We forget those facts too. I don’t think this is political at all. I’m here to serve. I’ll serve as long as the community wants me to serve [on] all the boards and commissions and everything else. I don’t agree with the political comment.”

Also challenging Rouse’s charge that the council was playing politics was Tony Tiscareno, who was not up for re-election.

“This is absolutely not political,” he said. “When all of us came into council we were facing almost a depression: furloughs [for] a lot of our folks; depleted staffing level. They did their jobs. They didn’t put any blame on the council previous to me. And they are not putting any blame on this current council. This current council is trying to get things straight. We were able to bring everybody from the police staffing to the folks that pick up the leaves and the gardeners that come into work full time – we took them off of furloughs. I’m very proud of that as a council….

“So I think these are good times for both our employees and the city to make sure that we run efficiently. And I want to continue to be of service to both. I want to thank again both parties for getting these things done. I’m not going to say in a timely manner, because it was time consuming, it took a long time. This council has had to make a lot of decisions during that time. But I think we all made the right decision, and it’s time to move forward.”

The other two council members who will be staying on, Lori Ogorchock who is not up for election until 2018, and Monica Wilson, who was reelected in the council race, echoed those remarks.

“We have been doing this in good faith,” said Ogorchock. “It had nothing to do with political whatsoever. I feel strongly with what we’ve done with the unions, and I thank all the employees.”

Wilson said, “When we first came on [the council in 2012] we were only at a four-day work week. And we worked really hard to get you guys back to work. And I know a lot of you guys made sacrifices. So to say it was a political move, I really don’t get that. That’s so far from the truth. We all worked really hard and worked really long hours negotiating in good faith. So I do not have a problem tonight going through with all these bargaining unit contracts.”

Wilson and Ogorchock did draw the line, however, at adding new employees. They voted against adding an accountant and a senior economic development program manager, but were outvoted by the rest of the council.

The council has tentatively scheduled a special meeting Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. to swear in Thorpe, Wilson and either Harper or Wright, if the election results are finalized by then.

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2 Comments to “Antioch Council approves $9.2 million employee pay, benefits hike over five years”

  1. XXX says:

    So tell me where it is the norm to get full salary pensions, full medical benefits upon retirement? That will bankrupt a city in no time flat. Not to mention, Fire & Police retire very young – you’re paying for them for a long time prior to their death or Medicare age. No one factors that in. Just think back a few years when everything was tight – 4-day work weeks – no raises. That’s where you will be five years from now when this whole fiasco is up. Who is fiscally responsible for this?

  2. Michelle says:

    These decisions that will affect the future of our community should be made by people who will be in office not those on the way out.

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