Kids in the Hall

By Andy Balaskovitz

A new Teamsters agreement and Niowave apologizes

Monday, Sept. 17 — The Lansing City Council unanimously approved tonight a new collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters Local 214, which the Council president says is a “substantial change of how we’ve done business in the past.”

“It will go a long way to address cost containment,” Council President Brian Jeffries said, referring to health care and pension provisions in the agreement.

Jeffries said it’s the first time the city has entered into an agreement with a collective bargaining unit that includes a mixed defined benefits/defined contributions system.

A defined benefits pension plan establishes a set amount retirees are paid after employment, based on length of employment, age and salary. Defined contributions are more like a 401K, where employees contribute a set amount from paychecks that is then invested. The system was described as a “hybrid” between the two.

Both the Council and the administration welcomed the agreement as a move that could alleviate the city’s rising pension and health care costs and streamline coverage plans.

“This is a big step toward the goal of getting employees more or less on the same page when it comes to health care,” mayoral Chief of Staff Randy Hannan said during tonight’s meeting. “It’s an important step forward.”

Under the Hollister administration, the city moved from defined benefits to a defined contribution system, only to go back to defined benefits for most plans under former Mayor Tony Benavides.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood noted that the new contract — while it includes a signing bonus — does not include wage increases for the next two years.

In other business, two Niowave officials addressed the Council tonight to apologize for not including neighbors in the planning process for its 14,000-square-foot expansion that the company’s neighbors have for months called a “monstrosity.”

“We decided to fast track this project to keep up in the growth of contracts,” said Niowave President Terry Grimm. “We understand the construction has been creating concerns. We apologize for not involving” neighbors.

Last week, after Niowave postponed a planned neighborhood meeting, residents installed signs throughout the neighborhood that say “fix the faade.”

Niowave chief operating officer Jerry Hollister proposed creating a “site improvement working group” comprised of a “spokesperson or spokespersons” from the Walnut Neighborhood, City Council members, Bernero administration representatives and Niowave officials.

“This working group would come up with site solutions,” Hollister said.