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Unions seeking an increase in pensions

October 28, 2005|By By Mark R. Madler

Negotiations drag over new contract as employees, city can't agree on upping the retirement benefit.DOWNTOWN BURBANK -- Frustrated over a lack of progress in negotiations for a new union contract, city employees crowded the City Council chambers Tuesday night in a show of solidarity.

Getting a half-percent increase in retirement pensions in the new contract is a top priority for the employees who belong to the Burbank City Employees Assn., the Burbank Manager's Assn. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 18.

Pension amounts are calculated at 2% of an employees annual salary at the time of retirement multiplied by the number of years they worked for the city. The union employees want 2.5% of their annual salary at the time of retirement to be used in the calculation.

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An increase would help attract new employees and retain current ones, Barry Poole, an IBEW business representative, told the City Council.

"Why should an employee stay in Burbank when they can get a much better retirement plan right next door," Poole said. "We need to retain employees at all levels of experience and the way to do that is negotiate retirement enhancements."

Poole was wildly applauded by the dozens of union members in the council chambers when he approached the podium to speak.

In Glendale, employees receive 2.5% of their annual salary at the time of retirement for their pension.

Burbank City Employees Assn. President Bob Kaczmarek hoped that the council would make the ongoing negotiations a positive process by considering the increase.

"This is an important part of the total package that would help keep employees here and help attract qualified employees for the future of Burbank," Kaczmarek said.

Assistant City Manager Mike Flad said the disagreement between the city and the unions over the pension contribution has been a "pivotal" issue in the contract negotiations.

"But this is not new," Flad said. "Since the Police Department received the 3%, this has been on the table."

Burbank Police and Fire Department personnel receive 3% of their annual salary in their pension calculation.

The police plan was negotiated in July 2000 between the city and the Burbank Police Officers Assn.

The city union employees have been working without a contract since July 1.

Local 18 represents utility workers for Burbank Water and Power; and the Burbank Managers Assn. represents 152 middle managers.

The issue reveals a gap between city leaders and the union members over whether the city should fully fund retirement pensions or if employees should be making a contribution

Comments made by some of the council members, suggest they lean toward the latter.

The council is committed to alternate possibilities to add to retirement benefits but not with expanding the percentage contributed to the pension, Vice Mayor Todd Campbell said.

"We're all willing to look at a number of options but I think, for me at least, an enhanced retirement is not one of them," Campbell said.

Mayor Jef Vander Borght said he could not back an increase to the pension contribution because of the cost.

"There are a number of ways of providing retirement benefits that allows us to attract employees to the city that is not the current program and won't lead to bankruptcy," Vander Borght said.

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