While much of the county seems to have achieved some form of recovery after the 2008 recession, Black Diamond city employees say they’ve been left behind.
During a passionate citizens comment period during the April 4 meeting, many employees and their supporters gave close to an hour of testimony to the Black Diamond City Council about their financial struggles with the city, which includes dozens of furloughed work days, hour and position cuts, and few cost of living adjustments for the last 10 years.
“I, along with others, have been loyal to the city through turbulent times, and that was due to the unstable political environment… Even though the stress, we have always been willing to go the extra mile for the city. We enjoy working here,” said Tracey Redd, who’s worked for the city for about 10 years. “Yet… while expenditures continue to increase due to inflation, our wages have not kept pace with those increased costs. Why is it that we are not taken into consideration in the budget process?… We’re hoping it’s time that you guys can help make it right.”
Nearly all Black Diamond staff — 22 employees, to be exact — joined Teamsters Local 117 in 2015, and the Local has been negotiating a three-year contract with the city since October 2017.
But city staff decided it was important to tell their stories directly to the city council when they learned negotiations were not going their way, said Andy Williamson, city Master Development Review Team director and shop steward for Local 117.
Normally, specifics on offers and counter offers are kept out of the public sphere, but Local 117 Political Director Dustin Lambro said at the April 4 meeting he heard the city’s then-recent offer was a half-percent COLA. Sources familiar with negotiations confirmed the city’s offer was a half-percent COLA each year for three years.
“I thought it was insulting,” he told the council in a tone matched by several other speakers, who made it clear they believe the city has the financial ability to make a better offer, especially given the sacrifices they made in the last decade.
According to Stephanie Metcalf, the city’s court administrator, she and other city employees had 13 work days furloughed in 2009 to help keep the city from overspending, and did not receive a cost of living adjustment (COLA).
“The city had to take drastic measures to keep afloat financially… We understood,” she said. “We were told the city didn’t have any money. We knew, and we understood.”
But the sacrifices didn’t stop there — Metcalf said employees had more than three dozen work days furloughed and only received one or two 1 percent COLAs over the next 10 years.
“My position was also cut to 32 hours a week, which equates to 20 percent of my pay,” she continued. “At this time, I was a single mother. I had three sons, all in college, and I didn’t how I was going to make ends meet on such a drastic cut and support my kids through college.”
Metcalf said her and her colleagues’ financial troubles were exacerbated due to the cost of living in Washington increasing by 62 percent since 2006, according to a University of Washington study, and their frustration increased when they learned the Black Diamond Police Department received a total of 20 percent COLAs between 2009 to 2015, and annual signing bonuses.
“I sincerely appreciate the dedicated group of police officers that I work with… but is it fair to give them a 20 percent COLA, plus yearly signing bonuses, during the same time period the rest of us were told the city is broke and given a 1 percent COLA and 36 unpaid furloughs and cuts for hours?” Metcalf asked the council. “As someone who has worked her entire adult life in the court system, who is dedicated to fairness and justice for everyone… in my opinion, it is not fair, and it is not just.”
City financial director May Miller, another member of Local 117, also spoke about the city’s financial situation during the April 4 meeting.
“I was hired right at the time when they just put the Master Planned Development Agreement together, and growth was right around the corner. And every single year, we’d go to different meetings, and it was always right around the corner. Just right around the corner,” she said. “I was over at Community Development yesterday. I went over to ask a questions about the census. I sat outside, because there was almost no room to get in there — people were lined up, they were getting permits, they were asking questions… It just occurred to me, we have turned the corner.”
According to Williamson, the City Council and Mayor Carol Benson met with their legal team after the April 4 meeting and made another offer to the Local. Even though the Local declined the offer, Williamson said things seem to be moving in the right direction.
“We do have a good working relationship with the negotiating teams and are trying to strive and move forward so that we all get what we need out of the contracts,” he said. “The members believe that the council members are up to speed on what’s going on… we’re hopeful.”
A counter offer is expected to be made to the city during a meeting on May 17.