Pittsfield Council Approves Part of Staff Raise Proposal

By Joe DurwiniBerkshires Correspondent
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The City Council approved a portion of the proposed raises the mayor had petitioned for non-union employees.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — By a 9-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved raises for 25 mid-level, non-union city employees who have been passed over for raises in recent years.

The amendment to the city code came as part of an overall proposal from Mayor Daniel Bianchi, which also included increases and reclassification of about the same number of management-level positions. But a council subcommittee last week decided it would prefer to look at the components more individually.  

Some residents have balked at the additional expense while proponents say the increases are needed to redress a serious disparity between Pittsfield and other municipalities. Supporters of the move argue that the pay scales have been detrimental to attracting and retaining talented staff.

"These people have only have only had a raise over the last five years of 1.5 percent," said Councilor At Large Barry Clairmont, "So it's not like we are giving out 5 percent raises every year."

The anticipated cost of the increases for the coming fiscal year is $39,750,  which with associated pension commitments amounts to around 0.0003 percent of this year's proposed FY15 budget. The money has been allocated in the city's unclassified budget until the increases are approved.

The two councilors who voted in opposition to the change, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Councilor At Large Churchill Cotton, agreed with the raises but said they were against making them retroactive to last July.

"I'm all in favor of the raises," said Morandi.  "I just can't support the retro-activity of it."

Councilor Jonathan Lothrop maintained that retroactive raises are not uncommon in municipal employment, where most contracts are negotiated through collective bargaining following the expiration of the previous contract.

"I'm not swayed by the argument that this retroactive is unusual," he said, and he noted that even with the 5 percent retroactive raise, these non-union public employees are still going to be behind the rate of increases granted to other municipal employees in recent years.

Clairmont said the raises should have been brought forward then instead of having to be done retroactively.

"This study was done back in 2012, it should have been brought forward sooner," said Clairmont.  "It is not the employees' fault that it was not brought forward sooner, and I don't think they should be penalized for a lack of timely action by the administration and this council."

Councilor Kathleen Amuso likened the increases to those previously negotiated by United Educators for Pittsfield, who in 2012 negotiated a new contract that includes 3 percent in step raises over a three-year period.

"These people don't have unions out there supporting them, and that's why we have to go through this process," said Clairmont.

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