LYNN — All of the city’s union contracts are expired and city officials think negotiations will have a major impact on efforts to close Lynn’s projected $5 million budget gap.
“As a citizen and councilor, my opinion is that I believe both sides have to sit in a room and work out a deal that’s fair to everyone because we can’t put a budget down until we know what the contracts are going to be,” said City Council President Darren Cyr.
Collective bargaining is between Mayor Thomas M. McGee, the city’s law department and the unions, except for teachers’ contract negotiations, which also involve the school department and its attorney.
The city has approximately a dozen contracts to negotiate, including those with teachers, police, fire, library, and City Hall groups, such as the Department of Public Works and the Inspectional Services Department.
Collective bargaining agreements could account for a major increase in expenses this year, according to city officials. Negotiations have to be completed before the city’s budget can be approved — the fiscal year ends on June 30.
McGee told The Item last week that while it wasn’t appropriate to get into specifics in terms of union contract negotiations, it was important to come to a deal that was fair for both sides, as far as keeping the city’s financial state in mind.
The city had to exhaust a $14 million loan given through state legislation last year to balance its fiscal year 2018 and FY19 budgets. Even with borrowing $9.5 million to balance the FY18 budget and $4.5 million for FY19, the city is still projected to have a $5 million budget gap for FY20.
The largest union in the city is the Lynn Teachers Union, with 1,708 members, including approximately 1,265 teachers. There are three separate contracts the union has to negotiate with the city and school department — teachers and speech therapists, paraprofessionals and therapists, according to Sheila O’Neil, president of the Lynn Teachers Union.
The teachers’ two-year contract expired on Aug. 31 and the union has been operating under an expired contract since then, according to O’Neil.
“We’re at the table and we’re negotiating things other than money. We haven’t even gotten to money at this point,” said O’Neil. “We obviously know the financial situation of the city and we are very mindful of that, but we want to get the best contract for our teachers as possible.”
O’Neil said teachers can’t get a raise until a new contract is approved, but still earn a “step” increase for each additional year of experience.
With the new School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, the two sides — the teachers union and school department — are trying a new approach this year with negotiations, interest-based bargaining. With that strategy, both sides come to the table with what each views as a problem, such as substitutes, and finds a way to solve that problem, according to O’Neil.
Sean Martin, president of Lynn Firefighters Local 739, said it benefits everybody to keep the city’s financial condition in mind during negotiations, in terms of not putting any more financial strain on the city, while at the same time making sure it’s a level playing field for everybody.
The firefighters’ union contract expired on July 1 and the department has been operating under its previous three-year contract. Martin said the union typically looks for a raise with contract negotiations, but clarified that was a goal of all city unions.
“Hopefully, we can come to something that’s agreeable to both sides and in the meantime, we’re going to continue to do what we do,” Martin said.
While Cyr clarified it wasn’t his job to negotiate contracts, but rather the mayor’s responsibility, he said health insurance negotiations as part of the union contracts is “the major thing.” He said the city has to save between $5 million and $8 million annually in health insurance costs as it looks to improve its financial crisis.
During last year’s budget process, Sean Cronin, senior deputy commissioner of local services for the Department of Revenue, partially attributed the city’s poor financial state to debt becoming too extensive from underfunding the cost of health insurance for its employees going back several years.
The council president is optimistic about achieving a balanced budget, citing revenue coming into the city with development and future pot shops. He also thinks the city won’t be forced into receivership, which would be the case if it can’t generate more revenue and close its budget gap this year.
“We’ve already begun working on it and we’re finding money and I believe they’re going to be able to negotiate something in the contracts that will help with insurance issues we’re having,” Cyr said. “Receivership puts fear into people. I don’t believe that’s the direction we’re going in.”