January 18, 2013

Editorial: Lesson offered in successful contract negotiation


---- — It always amazes us when two sides can agree on the big picture of an issue and come to a consensus that’s fair to both parties, especially when it involves traditional contentious issues.

Such is the case with news that Clinton County and its largest collective-bargaining unit — the Civil Service Employees Association — have come to terms on a three-year contract.

It appears that both gave a little and took a little in an attempt to meet the needs of both entities.

The contract settlement should serve as a model for other employer-employee discussions about what’s best for all involved.

It’s all about sacrifice and give and take, things not often seen in management-union discussions.

For example, while the deal calls for employees to see more in their paychecks, they will also see a rise in their health-insurance premium contribution over the final two years of the three-year agreement.

Further, county employees hired before 1980 will continue to make no health-care cost contribution.

Also, the contract calls for employees to work 15 years to qualify for retirement health insurance instead of the previous 10 years.

While giving the union credit for the contract, Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley summed it up pretty well, in our opinion: “They want to keep the county as viable as possible, and they want to keep jobs, and they did what they could to help with that.”

Union President Joseph Musso said it was important to keep the county economically solvent and maintain fiscal integrity.

The bargaining group approved the contract by more than 100 votes. The union represents about 600 employees. A total 71 percent voted on the agreement.

The union’s position was based on real-world concerns. 

“With the tax cap and everything the county is facing, we knew that was going to be important, and we didn’t want to hurt the citizens of the county,” Musso explained.

It probably didn’t hurt, either, that the agreement saved some union jobs, and members wanted assurances of a wage increase to keep up with the cost of living.

It would appear both sides met their objectives.

The bottom line is that the contract was achieved by clear-headed negotiators without antagonizing public accusations, threats and comments.

Both sides came in with realistic, fair expectations, and it’s clear that that alone is what drove the successful conclusion.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.