10/9/2020 12:18:00 PM N.B. Water & Light
new union contract
ok'd on a 5-0 vote
The five members of the North Branch Water and Light Commission last week unanimously adopted a newly-negotiated union contract for the utility employees. The contract is effective January 2020 through December 2021.
Staff had petitioned to be represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers in the wake of workplace turmoil happening in late 2019 and into early 2020.
For example: two members of the former three-member utility commission had placed top employees on involuntary leave, trespassing them from re-entering utility offices. An interim general manager filled in for months. A new position of finance director was created and filled.
The new union contract includes an outline for due process and puts a grievance procedure in place.
Staff found themselves on the receiving end of social media posts and were belittled in declarations made during public meetings for several months. They were accused of lacking in cooperation and certain officials said that their overly-compensated utility jobs were being protected by cronies. The new five-member utility commission made a point of applauding staff last week.
Thomas Hals thanked the staff for “...sticking with us when it would have been easy to say goodbye.” Water and Light Commissioner Mic Dahlberg added, that the utility commission really appreciates its employees for continuing to perform their jobs in the midst of being used as political fodder. Chair Terry Smith added, “We have a great group.”
Commissioners Smith and Dahlberg were the subcommittee for negotiating the contract. Terms were ratified by employees just prior to the vote by the commission last week, Smith reported.
Highlights of the deal include pay increases for staff at one percent effective October and another 2.25 percent starting January 2021. Examples are power plant manager $37 to 38.21. Foreperson/ lineperson $40.67 to $42. Additional items were adjusted such as improved plans for providing benefits like insurance and disability.
Moving into work session format (no action votes) the commission then covered some of the 2021 budget, capital needs and late payment policy adjustments for over 90 minutes.
Chair Smith had recommended looking at the mid-month late notice the utility sends out, under the impression it was unnecessary. Staff had some ideas but will also check with other municipal utility operations to see what they have for a notice. The mid-month past due will probably be eliminated. The late fee is 10 percent of the bill.
Bills that go well into arrears without even installments-- are being added onto property tax.
Letters instructing account holders of this pending property tax “certification” were being sent in the mail in recent days, the commission heard. If a payment plan is arranged for, the certification can be avoided.
During the Governor’s emergency order statewide utilities are not assessing non-payment penalties or enacting disconnect of services. The commissioners saw this as an opportune time to review billing and if any changes are needed, they’ll be effective when the order is lifted.
Newly-hired General Manager Scott Hautala said definitions and timelines for billing are spelled out in North Branch City Ordinance. Major changes would require city council revision.
In other business, the commissioners also support offering a cooperative-based electric development rate. The program is a reduction with the difference covered by the cooperative, for large users of electricity. It can be applied to existing and new or expanding locations. The reduction is a 40 percent discount. The program is for six years, Hautala explained.
He will have more details following the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Association’s Board meeting later in October.
North Branch Community Development Director Carla Vita explained the city’s Interstate Business Park is in ECE territory, outside of the Water and Light electric service area, but there are several other lots in the city core, and existing enterprises that may expand, that might qualify.
The two monthly meeting start times were changed.
The work session will remain the first Thursdays, but goes to 4:30 p.m. and the regular business meeting moves to 4:30, the third Wednesday. They are held at city hall.