About 6,500 unionized District workers will receive a one-time bonus of $1,700 under a plan to be announced today by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams that aims to reward the workers for giving up wage increases during the city's recent financial crisis.
The lump sum--to be paid by Dec. 15--is an attempt by the Democratic mayor to build goodwill with organized labor, which has viewed him somewhat suspiciously after he fired hundreds of city employees when he was the chief financial officer, prior to being elected mayor last year. More difficult negotiations are ahead over Williams's plan to force D.C. agencies to compete with private firms for city contracts, a plan that likely will reduce the city's work force.
The bonus plan is "a major step forward for this mayor with labor," said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), whose council committee oversees labor. She predicted "much better relations" between the Williams administration and city workers.
Williams aides called the lump-sum agreement "historic," and they said it was part of an agreement that would lead to long-awaited improvements in city services. Among the employees covered are trash collectors, street cleaners, secretaries, housing inspectors and other clerical and professional workers in eight unions.
In the past, city managers dictated policy to unions, labor leaders said. Under the new pact, managers are supposed to listen more often to rank-and-file workers and incorporate their ideas into decisions.
"It's a new beginning," said George Johnson, the unions' chief negotiator and president of Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "This will set the stage for how labor and managers work in D.C. for years to come. This mayor has a vision, and we'd like to help him achieve it."
The money didn't hurt either, though labor leaders had sought a higher amount.
"It's not getting even, but at least it's a down payment that the city is appreciative of all they've given," Johnson said.
A spokeswoman for Williams declined to answer questions about the agreement's details yesterday. In a news release touting today's announcement, the spokeswoman said the agreement between the city and labor "acknowledges workers for their sacrifices during the four years of the financial crisis."
The cost of the bonus and where it would come from in the budget could not be confirmed yesterday, although one estimate placed its cost at about $11 million.
The announcement caps a few months of negotiations between Williams and the unions, which are in the final year of a three-year contract negotiated during the period when city services still were dysfunctional and budget deficits routine. Throughout the 1990s, workers gave up pay increases and suffered frequent furloughs.
Under that contract, workers received a $100 bonus in 1998, a 3.7 percent wage increase in 1999 and a 3.8 percent pay increase in the current budget year. The contract stipulates that if D.C. government finishes a budget year with a surplus--as it has the last two years--the mayor must reopen talks to consider a bonus for union workers.
Those talks began with the union asking for a $2,895 lump sum, one union official said. The city proposed $600, part of which was tied to meeting specific measures of performance such as percentage of days trash was picked up on time. Tension over the two positions rose, but negotiators wound up settling on bonuses of $1,700.
Still to be resolved are thornier issues such as "managed competition," in which government workers would compete against private firms to deliver services, presumably at a savings to the city. Another idea popular with the mayor is a pay-for-performance plan that would provide bonuses to workers if they meet performance goals. The agreement includes a commitment by the unions to move to a pay-for-performance system and increase city spending on worker training.
During the recent negotiations, union officials expressed concern about the fairness of performance standards, given the differences between jobs. Measuring the number of potholes filled is easier, for example, than judging the performance of a clerical worker in procurement or contracting.
"All we're asking is for an opportunity to do our job," said Eric Bunn, president of Local 2725 of the American Federation of Government Employees. "But we need the city's assistance. We need proper training and equipment and tools."