Demanding more clarification, Newton aldermen voted overwhelmingly Monday night to delay funding the new contracts Mayor Setti Warren signed with police and municipal workers.
By a vote of 18 to 2, the Board of Aldermen tabled the mayor’s request to transfer $425,191 from payroll and health benefit accounts to fund first-year costs of contracts reached last month with the Newton Police Association and the Newton Municipal Employees Association. The requests will be taken up again at the next full board meeting on Sept. 6.
Aldermen expressed concerns that the contracts as written may block the city from joining the Group Insurance Commission, a state health plan that has generally been less expensive than most municipal plans. Some said they feel they have not gotten a clear answer on the details of the agreements, such as whether it would possible for employees to join the state plan at any point during the three-year contracts.
“In the interest of transparency ... a number of people have expressed interest to me and in the local newspapers, that they would love to city explore joining the GIC,” said Ted Hess-Mahan, alderman at large from Ward 3. “I think now it is a good time to have a discussion on the GIC, whether or not it is a good idea.”
Warren, who is running for US Senate, was not at the meeting.
“We have excellent contract deals in place with our municipal unions," Warren said today. "We worked very hard at putting this together. This will save the city a substantial amount of money and bring revenue in line with expenditures. I am very pleased with the initial contracts which we put in place.
“I am disappointed that the vote did not take place last night. But as I always do, I will work to answer any additional questions that the board has between now and the time the discussion comes in September. I will be working closely with the president of the Board of Alderman, Scott Lennon, to ensure that all members of the board questions are answered.”
Flanked by uniformed firefighters and police officers, Newton Mayor Setti Warren announced Aug. 1 that his administration had struck deals with all 10 municipal unions. He said the new contracts bring increases in labor costs in line with revenue increases, at 2.5 percent.
Warren, who hopes to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Scott Brown, said the contracts reduce health care costs by increasing co-payments for current employees and higher contribution rates for new employees.
Warren has refused to comment on whether he supports a new law that makes it easier for communities to change health plans without union approval. But in announcing the firefighters’ settlement, he said the contract would save as much on health care costs as the state health plan.
Language in the police contract indicates that it would be difficult for the city to join the state health plan without union approval. After spelling out the additional health care costs union members will shoulder, the contract states:
"The City agrees that in return for the changes listed above, it will not seek further changes in the terms and conditions of the health insurance plans offered by it to its bargaining unit employees without the express written assent of the Union until, at the earliest, negotiations for a successor to the 2011 - 2014 collective bargaining agreement.
"Further, should any federal or state law be enacted purporting to allow any such
changes prior to the negotiations for a successor agreement, the City will not pursue any such changes unless it is legally compelled to do so."
Derek McLean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.