McKeesport officials are thankful to unionized police and public works employees for helping the city contain personnel costs --- especially when it comes to health insurance.
Council last week unanimously approved new three-year labor agreements with both bargaining units, who are represented by Teamsters Local 205 in White Oak.
The contracts provide unionized police officers with wage increases of 4 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second and third years; and public works employees with a wage increase of 2.5 percent in the first year and 1.5 percent in the second year, McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said.
Among other concessions, police officers will pay a deductible on their health insurance for the first time, while public works employees are accepting a wage freeze in the third year, Cherepko said.
"We are trying to do more with less," Cherepko said. "We wouldn't be able to do it without the cooperation of these employees being willing to work with us --- and willing to take a wage freeze."
The city also has converted its health insurance plans from a "preferred provider organization," or PPO, plan, to an "exclusive provider organization," or EPO, plan, he said. EPO plans require members to stay within a network in order to receive covered benefits.
That change, approved by the bargaining units, will save the city more than $250,000, Cherepko said.
"It's not easy to make changes like that," he said, but health insurance costs have continued to spiral out of control.
In six years, Cherepko said, the city's annual premiums have gone from $1.1 million to more than $2 million.
The police department includes more than 50 full-time and part-time officers. The public works department includes 27 people, and the city has not been quick to replace people who have left or retired.
"But they still have the same number of streets to clear and the same number of potholes to fill," Cherepko said. "You still have the same amount of work to do --- in fact, you may have more."
In addition, he said, at least six public works employees are nearing retirement. If the city decides to start collecting its own trash, some of those employees may be replaced after they retire --- but not all of them, the mayor said.
Originally published February 12, 2018.