LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The board of Supervisors on Dec. 18 approved a four year agreement with its public works employees that includes across the board pay raises and a new novel approach that will introduce job categories.

The new contract takes effect this month and continues through Dec. 31, 2023. It includes three percent wage increases for each year of the agreement.

“These are the guys who go out and salt and plow on Christmas and New Years Day and are the ones who are out when trees fall during in a rain storm,” said township manager Kurt Ferguson in recommending the tentative contract for approval. “They are the ones that are out if there’s a sewage problem and if someone is having a problem on their property. At every place that I have been, they are probably the most under appreciated group that there is. People recognize them if suddenly the road isn’t salted or plowed, but more often than not those complaints are minimal.”

Ferguson said he started having conversations with the union in April “with some novel concepts that I was hoping to bring to this contract. And I have been overwhelmed with their insightful participation and willingness to start to look at the department differently.”

According to Ferguson, the contract will extend the probationary period for each new hire from 45 up to 270 days and includes a new probationary pay scale.

It also contains a new grievance procedure outlining specific parameters for processing grievances. And it outlines how resolution cannot be negotiated outside the contract and establishes a final appeals process to the board of supervisors.

“This memorializes the obligation of management to sit down face-to-face with individuals who may have grievances. If they are being reprimanded, they have multiple levels to try to resolve those,” said Ferguson. “They can go to the department head. They then could appeal that to the manager and appeal that to the board of supervisors where some agreement in the interim can be worked out.”

The contract, said Ferguson, also includes a new “novel approach in Bucks County, which I’m thrilled that they have agreed to, that sets up new job categories that will incentivize additional training for employees by allowing them to move to higher job classifications and earn additional pay as they get additional training.”

The contract also introduces certification bonuses with a cash bonus being provided for employees who become certified in specific areas the township has deemed necessary to run the township.

“Right now you might have someone who has been working for 25 years on the same pay scale without ever having the ability to move up into a higher pay grade. This provides that to them,” said Ferguson. “We’ll have the ability to attract people to say, ‘You’re not stuck in this job classification for the rest of your career. You can move all the way up to the highest pay grade,’ which is terrific, which is what we want.”

It also creates a new 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift in recreation to accommodate township needs, particularly for programs taking place at the community center.

In addition, the contract places all new hires into the township’s new health plan, with a health savings account and a high deductible plan.

It also provides for the first time that all employees in the current plan make contributions. “They are not comparable to what the private sector is paying, but it is a step forward that they will participate in those costs,” said Ferguson.

The contract also provides some on-call pay for sewer employees who have to be available on weekends. It also marginally increases their deferred compensation plan and reorganizes the way the township provides part of their dental benefits at no additional cost.

The new agreement also removes a signing bonus that was part of the previous contract.

“I’m thrilled with this agreement,” said Ferguson. “We have guys already who are asking how they can get certified to become more technically skilled, earn more money and become a greater benefit to the township.”

Supervisor Dan Grenier thanked Ferguson and the public works employees for putting the agreement together and specifically noted the inclusion of several new ideas and concepts that are currently being used in the private sector.

The contract received the unanimous support of the board of supervisors with Grenier, Fred Weiss, John Lewis, Suzanne Blundi and Kristin Tyler voting to approve.

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