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Ashland electrical workers get a raise

Two contracts securing a cost of living adjustment for Ashland’s city employees covered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions passed without unanimous support of Ashland City Council Tuesday.

According to meeting materials, negotiations came to a compromise between the city of Ashland and the labor representatives for the two unions — IBEW clerical/technical and IBEW Electrical Union Local 659 representing lineman and journeyman.

With respect to the city of Ashland’s financial predicament, the meeting materials said, both unions agreed to changes in benefits, namely an increase to their health care deductibles. Workers can expect a 1500/4500 deductible plan as opposed to the previous 500/1500 deductible plan.

For the first two years of both IBEW contracts, employees will receive a 4% pay increase, dropping to a 3% increase in the final year of the contract, according to meeting materials.

The general fund will absorb much of the cost, but because IBEW employees are working in departments like public works and utilities, fee-supported funds, such as the wastewater fund, specific to those departments also will absorb the cost.

Deputy City Manager and acting human resources director Sabrina Cotta explained to Council the city also will offset the increased payroll costs through vacancy savings, but the changes will have to be adjusted for in the next budget biennium.

Councilor Shaun Moran read from a statement he had prepared for the occasion.

Having qualified staff is essential, especially for a small town, he said. Staff should feel engaged and be equipped with the tools they need. But Ashland staff already is well looked after.

In light of the structural deficit, caused by years of overspending, staffing is the single biggest cost component and has to be addressed, he said. If inflation cuts into city staff wages, it cuts into the wages of other Ashland citizens, too.

Councilor Gina DuQuenne referred to the number of people who lost the financial ability to live in Ashland during the pandemic as an exodus and stated she could not support the pay bumps for city employees because it would burden Ashland citizens.

“I appreciate the reality that a lot of local people are dealing with, with inflation,” Councilor Tonya Graham said “but that is not connected to the labor market in which this city operates.”

To fill the vacancies in Ashland’s government with skilled staff, the pay raises are necessary, she said.

“We have had 25 resignations since January 2022 — that got my attention immediately,” Councilor Paula Hyatt said, referring to the meeting materials.

Many of Ashland’s city employees also are people living in Ashland, Hyatt said, and even if they’re not, the valley is becoming more of a regional network where things don’t stop at the border.

“How is it possible everybody’s right?” Mayor Julie Akins asked.

It’s true, she said, that Ashland has to stay competitive; all industries are struggling to attract and maintain people, and staying competitive isn’t necessarily connected to the struggles of financially burdened Ashlanders.

But how are those in Ashland who are struggling supposed to feel when they watch city employees receive raises they are paying for? Akins said.

Moran and Duquenne voted against the motion while the rest of the council voted in support.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.