Eagle flies with $575 for light bills
The recent cold spell has consumed extra fuel oil, electricity and propane, causing folks to pull flatter wallets out of their jean pockets.
However, a warm announcement from NSEDC has warmed the hearts of people studying warmer places where they could spend winters more cheaply: $575—a one-time assist in paying utility bills is waiting for each household in member communities.
The help for Nome’s utility bills, only to households and not available to businesses, will go directly to NJUS on behalf of ratepayers who follow through by going in to fill out a simple application during the signup period, tentatively scheduled for mid-February at a place to be announced, according to John K. Handeland, utility manager. NJUS will divvy the $575 into three parts to be applied to the next three monthly utility bills, beginning with the February bill, Handeland hopes. People who rent housing may also apply; NJUS will determine their eligibility.
Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation last year provided the same assistance—$575, which found 1,240 Nome households eligible to participate.
In news from the NJUS board meeting Jan. 24, the panel approved three resolutions OK-ing labor contracts with three labor unions representing utility employees: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Alaska Public Employees Association (APEA), and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). The contracts expired Dec. 31.
The three contracts yielded employees a seven-percent salary raise over the next three years—three percent the first year and two percent for each of the next two following years. The contracts mirror the percentages city employees received, according to Handeland.
But these are tight times in the economy and seven percent was too much, Chuck Wheeler, NJUS board member said. “A bonus gives them something. The economy is not there in Nome [for a raise].”
The contracts must go next to Nome Common Council for approval.
“The wages for the ordinary person on the street are not keeping up . . . we are a nonprofit to serve the community in the lowest cost method,” Wheeler added.
At NJUS, starting wage employees were eligible for HUD housing, Carl Emmons, board chair said. NJUS had to pay a living wage to keep good employees, he added.
“You pay peanuts, you get monkeys,” Emmons concluded. “We need to pay and demand quality.”
The board approved the contracts unanimously, retroactive to Jan. 1.
He tried to negotiate labor packages that would pass, Handeland said.
“My tack in negotiating all these years has been not to give agreements to boards to have them shot down, but to have prior executive sessions to keep the principles in negotiations abreast, the contracts based on ongoing dialog, that I had a basis to go where I was going,” Handeland explained.
The contracts had only one change, a revision on the sick leave and vacation leave section, a change of benefit both to NJUS and to employees. In the last cycle, a bargaining unit proposed to combine annual leave and illness leave to a single personal leave category. NJUS did not move in that direction. The issue came up again this year. NJUS declined, but the utility and the union worked out a compromise, Handeland reported.
The language reads thus: At separation, an employee who provides 120 or more days’ advance notice of separation of service shall receive 25 percent of the value of their unused sick leave accrued up to maximum cash out of 400 hours or a maximum value of $5,000, whichever is less. As an example, a person with 400 hours on the books can receive cash value for 100 hours.
Some employees look at sick leave as insurance; others see it as an “earned benefit.”
“My feeling is that if there is some potential economic benefit to the employee if they hang on to sick leave, there may be less likelihood of its use for sporadic ailments,” Handeland told the board. The incentive for giving four months’ notice aids NJUS in planning transitions and hiring replacements, he added.