NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — The City of New Bedford announced that Mayor Jon Mitchell and the union representing municipal employees have successfully negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement.

The contract with AFSCME Local 851 will cost the City $4.2 million over three years for the 364 positions in city government that are part of the union. The union ratified the contract earlier this week.

“I wish to thank the City’s and the Union’s negotiating teams and their work to secure an agreement that fairly compensates our hard-working municipal employees while protecting the interests of taxpayers,” Mitchell said in a release. “The agreement will help the City address staffing shortages, especially among our emergency dispatchers, who have had to work long hours to maintain a reliable level of service.”

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A funding request was submitted by Mayor Mitchell to the city council to cover an estimated $92,000 in Fiscal Year 2023 costs, with savings in the City’s operating budget used to cover about $80,000 in those costs.

New Bedford City Council President Linda Morad said in her weekly appearance on WBSM Friday morning that there will be a special meeting of the city council on Wednesday, May 3, to hear details of and ratify the new contract.

The new contract eliminates “step 1” on the employee step scale and adds a new step at the top of the scale at three percent more than the step before it, effective April 24, 2023.

It also provides a one percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

“These changes combined result in an increase of 4.75 percent per hour for the average employee,” the release stated.

Then, beginning July 1, the contract eliminates the new “step 1” and adds a new step at the top of the scale at three percent more than the step before it, while providing a two percent COLA, resulting in an increase of 5.78 percent per hour for the average employee.

Then effective July 1, 2024, the contract leaves the new step structure in place and provides a two percent COLA, which will result in an increase of 5.47 percent per hour for the average employee.

“While I am pleased that the negotiations between the City and AFSCME Local 851 have concluded and some progress has been made to update the pay scales for this group of hardworking City employees, I am very disappointed with the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) of one percent, two percent and two percent over the term of contract,” Council President Morad said in a statement to WBSM.

“Additionally, these COLA increases are well below those recently awarded by surrounding communities to AFSCME workers and well below the Unit C recommendations the Mitchell Administration recently recommended," she said.

The staffing shortage in the 911 Dispatch Center also prompted “significant compensation increases” in order to help with hiring new dispatchers and “to incentivize the retention of existing dispatch staff,” the release said.

Effective April 24, 2023, not only will dispatchers get the COLA and step changes of the other AFSCME members, they will also be moved from the current “Grade G” pay range ($19.21-26.82 per hour) to “Grade K” ($22.06-30.78).

“This change immediately shifts the dispatcher pay range upwards by nearly 15 percent, which is provided in addition to the percentage increases in hourly pay rates described earlier,” the release said.

On July 1, 2023, Grade K pay moves up to $23.17-32.34, and on July 1, 2024, it moves to $23.63-32.99 per hour.

There will also be some other additional benefits as well.

“The City is committed to conducting a reclassification exercise for AFSCME positions that will be completed by the end of the contract,” the release stated. “Eligible employees will also qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License stipend, reimbursement annually for work boots, and an increased longevity incentive.”

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