LAKELAND, Fla. (January 25, 2021) – Several months after beginning collective bargaining negotiations held in good faith, today the City of Lakeland notified the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 604 (UWUA) that it was declaring an impasse in negotiations for new three-year collective bargaining contracts for Lakeland Electric and City of Lakeland Water Utility employees. These contracts were to replace the UWUA contracts, which expired on September 30, 2020.
While the City and the UWUA have reached agreement on most of the provisions of new collective bargaining contracts, several operational issues remain with both Lakeland Electric and Water Utilities as they relate to their respective Collective Bargaining Agreements, with wages being the primary outstanding issue. There have been no negotiations since October 8th, 2020, even though the City has contacted the UWUA to see if further negotiations would be productive.
In addressing employee wages issues in these negotiations, the City has been cognizant of the budget cutbacks in the current and future fiscal years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the City offered no wage increase for the current year of the new contracts with across the board wage increases of 1% in each of the second and third years of the contracts.
In making this offer, the City took into account that the cost to employees of their pension contributions for the current fiscal year has been reduced. Employees will not see any increase in health insurance premiums in the 2021 calendar year.
In contrast, the UWUA has demanded wage increases totaling up to 5.5 % annually for the Lakeland Electric and Water Utility employees and even greater increases in compensation for Lakeland Electric apprentices and certain Water Utility employees. Not only is this wage demand far in excess of the current cost of living numbers, but it also is more than the historic pattern of wage increases during good economic conditions prior to the pandemic.
The City feels that the UWUA wage demands are irresponsible. The demand could require the City to increase taxes to fund similar wage increases throughout the City at the very time when its citizens can least afford a higher tax burden because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many of them.
Because the UWUA has been unwilling to modify its wage demands, the City has initiated the statutory process to resolve stalemates in collective bargaining negotiations under the state collective bargaining law – the Florida Public Employees Relations Act.
“We hope that this impasse in negotiations will be resolved quickly, said Joel Ivy, General Manager of Lakeland Electric, “so everyone involved can have certainty about the remaining contract issues, and we can reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the City’s electric and water employees.”