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Hammond begins contract negotiations
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Hammond begins contract negotiations

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HAMMOND | City administrators and labor leaders are heading to the bargaining table as the Hammond's major union contracts come up for renewal.

Contracts with the Hammond Police and Fire departments' unions and the Teamsters, who represent most of the city's public works employees, expire at the end of the year.

Negotiations with Hammond Professional Firefighters Association Local 556 were still at a stalemate Monday. Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is requesting the union clear up charges sought within the labor organization against City Council President Michael Opinker before talks can begin.

Comparatively, McDermott said the city already has begun talks with Fraternal Order of Police Local 51, and negotiations are moving forward.

“I'm very encouraged by what is taking place thus far,” McDermott said.

McDermott's administration is going into the talks armed with an overhauled city health insurance program and a City Council resolution recommending any pay raises be capped at 1 percent through 2016 unless the city's financial health improves.

That's in comparison to the up to 4 percent raise the city's police officers and firefighters saw in their current four-year contracts, and the up to 3 percent in the Teamsters' contract, according to the controller's office.

Estimates show giving a 1 percent raise to city employees would cost $352,246 a year, with a 3 percent raise costing more than $1 million annually.

McDermott said the resolution was his idea because he wanted to obtain input from the City Council. Because of the tight budget, any raises given to city employees must come from gaming revenue given to City Council members to make infrastructure improvements in their districts.

“They support me up to 1 percent. I mean if I went above 1 percent I could do that, but I'd have to go back to the council to get raises approved,” McDermott said. “If I came back with 1.5 percent, I got some explaining to do.”

Local 556 President Ed Lomeli said the union is currently weighing the situation with its membership and the individual who brought the Opinker charges up.

Opinker, who is the department's chief fire inspector and Local 556 member, is facing charges alleging he went against the membership by voting in support of health insurance changes. The overhaul is projected to save the city up to $3 million annually, but in some cases, increases what employees pay in biweekly deductions.

Larry Regan, Teamsters Local 142 business agent, said the union is meeting with its members to gauge what they would like to see in upcoming contracts and will then submit their requests to the negotiating team.

“Each contract, no doubt, there's going to be raises expected or basically proposed,” Regan said.

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