Stockton privatization labor deal nearly done

The Record
Published Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Approval of a tentative labor deal that could remove one of the final roadblocks to privatizing Stockton's water operations has been delayed a week but should be completed shortly, a union leader said Monday.

The City Council was slated to consider the proposed agreement behind closed doors at its meeting last Tuesday, but council members emerged from their private session without an approval.

Dean Cofer, a representative of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3, said negotiators needed to make a few minor changes involving effective dates.

"We've requested a couple of changes, a little sugar to help the medicine go down," Cofer said, "nothing that should hold up an agreement on either side."

Assistant City Manager Gary Ingraham, who often has taken the lead role in Stockton's privatization dealings, was unavailable for comment Monday. Both he and Cofer have declined to discuss any deal specifics, although the labor leader said the agreement addresses the sticky issue of severance packages for municipal utility workers, who will become private employees.

Under its 20-year contract with the city, international conglomerate OMI-Thames agreed to hire most of the approximately 100 municipal workers with the same or better pay and benefits.

Cofer said the deal will be taken to union members for a ratification vote after it's approved by the council. As of Monday, union negotiations were not listed on tonight's council agenda.

Unionized municipal workers have been frequent critics of the OMI-Thames contract, which some believe could worsen their long-term pay, benefits and work conditions.

The union originally filed a lawsuit asking a judge to block the contract from taking effect until the city reached a settlement with its workers. Union attorneys withdrew that lawsuit recently, and Cofer said the legal threat will disappear completely when the city agrees to a deal.

That would leave only a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the anti-privatization group Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton, which contend that the city did not adequately consider the environmental effects of its contract with OMI-Thames.