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Unions finalize support for Mayor Curry’s pension reform push

Jacksonville: The Florida Times-Union

By David Bauerlein, March 21, 2017

The final pieces are falling in place for Mayor Lenny Curry to sign, seal and deliver to the City Council a draft of proposed labor agreements that would close the city’s pension plans to future hires.

The last two unions still at the bargaining table struck tentative agreements Monday and Tuesday. 

Closing the pension plans to future city employees is a key component of Curry’s pension-reform plan because state law requires that step before the city can take advantage of a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in August for paying down the city’s massive $2.85 billion pension debt.

The City Council has the final say over the collective bargaining agreements. Curry has not said when he will file pension reform legislation with the council, but representatives of the mayor’s office have indicated he wants to have information ready by the end of the month so the council can start deliberating in April.

Getting through the collective bargaining talks has been complicated because employees covered by the three pension plans — police and firefighters, general employees, and corrections officers — are represented by nine different unions. Some unions have separate units for city and JEA employees, resulting in the city’s own version of March Madness as talks came to a head in a series of votes.

On Tuesday, JEA reached tentative agreement with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, coming on the heels of the utility reaching an agreement Monday with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

If rank-and-file members of both unions support the tentative agreements in votes scheduled Thursday and Friday, that would complete the collective bargaining phase of pension reform. Union leaders are throwing their support behind the tentative agreements.

“We will endorse it,” LIUNA local business manager Ronnie Burris told JEA negotiators at the bargaining table. “We will get the word out.”

LIUNA members last week rejected a JEA offer that provided pay raises of 3 percent annually for three years. The tentative agreement struck Tuesday has a 4.5 percent pay raise the first year, a 5 percent raise the second year, and a 4.5 percent raise the third year.

The half-cent sales tax for pension costs won’t start until around 2031 after the existing Better Jacksonville Plan expires, but state law gives the city ways to reduce pension contributions until the sales tax starts, provided the city closes its pension plans to new hires.