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Union gets tick up in pay
MONROE - The city and AFSCME union workers agreed to a cost of living increase for 2017 in one meeting, a stark contrast from negotiations for the 2016 agreement, which was not solidified until June of this year.

The labor agreement, which the Monroe Common Council approved Tuesday, included a cost-of-living increase for all of 2017 of .68 percent, a drop from the 2016 rate of .73 percent.

Catherine Kehoe, an engineering technician and member of AFSCME, said she was grateful to city administration for negotiating.

"We're always pleased the city wants to come to the table to bargain with us," Kehoe said.

The percentage increase is set by the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission as determined by the state Department of Revenue. The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers is an index measured on the average change over time paid for goods and services in metropolitan areas. CPI-U is determined roughly five months in advance for municipalities to determine the percentage increase. The number has been in freefall from January of last year until Dec. 1 of this year, when it is set to rebound. The current percentage for April of next year is .93 percent.

City Administrator Phil Rath said cities are beholden to that number by state law Act 10, signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. The legislation limited the ability of unions and cities to negotiate contracts. Rath said while the city does not have to provide the maximum recommended percentage, it cannot exceed the number or bargain further with AFSCME members. Rath also noted it was a quick process in comparison with 2016 contract talks.

The break-neck change of pace in bargaining was welcomed by council members. Alderwoman Brooke Bauman commended the process as smoothly completed. All discussions between the union and the city's Finance and Taxation Committee were completed within an hour-long regularly scheduled meeting, a big change from the last series of gatherings.

Kehoe said she was glad to see union members treated equally to non-represented employees, who received an increase of about .5 percent. In 2016, non-union laborers were given a 1.5 percent increase in the face of AFSCME's .73 percent.

"There was a goal to complete it in one night," Kehoe said. "We're just hoping the CPI is judging the increase correctly."

Last year, Kehoe noted a lack of income can put strain on fellow union employees and that a number of her co-workers took on second jobs.

Receiving the increase will be 29 positions, ranging from $14 to 24 per hour.