CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council approved a new contract with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at their March 2nd meeting. The contract applies to 912 of the City's non-professional employees.
The former contract expired on September 30, 2005. A tentative agreement was reached in January, with union members ratifying it by a vote of 418 to 105.
The new contract has a term of three years, providing merit pay increases of 4% in the first year, 4% in the second year, and 5% in the third year. In addition, the pay range minimums and maximums will be increased by 3% in each of the contract's three years. According to a City memo, the new agreement is projected to cost the City $4.8 million over the contract's three year period.
A unique feature of the new agreement is a provision that grants CWA bargaining unit members free access to City-owned recreation facilities. Justifying the free access, Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "One of the things we're working towards is being a Well Workplace." He hopes that the new employee benefit will improve health, reduce absenteeism, and improve the overall morale of the City's workforce.
Hibbard has also been a proponent of a Well City program, a concept of the Wellness Councils of America. He said that Well City could provide the same benefits to the general community that he hopes to realize from the free recreation that City employees now enjoy.
But there's no free recreation for the taxpayer, whose property taxes and Pennies for Pinellas fund the construction and maintenance of City recreation facilities. Public access to recreation is fee-based, requiring a $100 annual "Play Pass", or a pay as you go fee of a dollar or two to use weight rooms, skate park and City swimming pools.
Why do City employees get free recreation while the taxpayer must pay? Hibbard said, "At some point we may reduce the user fee. We have to look at what impact that has on the overall budget." Asked if the free employee access was studied for its budget impact, he said, "Nobody has looked at that to my knowledge."
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