By Jeff Gallatin
City officials and the fire department union averted arbitration and agreed on a three-year contract that includes 2-percent raises and increased health care costs, and leaves out two previously funded positions.
After the fire union and the city administration accepted without comment a recently released fact-finder’s report, City Council formally approved the three-year agreement at its Nov. 18 meeting.
Mayor Debbie Sutherland was pleased the agreement is concluded.
“It’s a fair agreement for both parties,” she said. “Given the fact that the city continues to face financial challenges in terms of funding cuts from the state.”
Fire union President Brandon Dimacchia said the union felt it should go to arbitration.
“We’re not happy about losing the floater position and the fire prevention officer both,” he said. “We would have liked to retain the fire prevention position but to continue the process would have meant going to arbitration, and we didn’t want to go that route. It would have been tough financially and we wouldn’t know the outcome, so we thought it best to accept this agreement. We would hope that we could get the fire prevention position back at some point in the future.”
Sutherland said she doesn’t foresee the fire prevention position coming back soon.
“Not given the current economic climate and budget situation,” she said. “We’re sending men on each shift to be trained in the inspections and that seems to be working out so that we can still get them done and have the shifts covered. The report agrees with the city position that 24 is an adequate staffing level for the fire department.”
The new agreement covers 2013, 2014 and 2015 with raises of 2 percent each year, although law Director Gary Ebert has noted that since the 2013 portion only covers July through December, it is effectively a 1-percent raise for that year. The contract also effectively eliminates a fire prevention officer position from the department, and a floater position, leaving the department at 24 men, or three eight-man shifts. It does ask the city to try and hire new firefighters more quickly when vacancies occur.
In addition to the raise, the firefighters union agreed to the new health care plan, which increases the out-of-pocket maximums from $750 to $1,400 annually for a single person and from $1,500 to $2,800 for family coverage. It also increases the monthly premium contributions for the workers to 8 percent for 2013, 9 percent for 2014 and 10 percent for 2015.
Finance Director Rene Mahoney said the estimated total cost for the wage increase over three years would be about $124,400. For an employee who uses the insurance to its full capacity, she said the increases mean the city would be saving $650 for a single and $1,300 for a family plan annually.
She said the city, like other governmental bodies and businesses, will be monitoring the situation closely in 2014 and 2015 to see what the effects of the Affordable Care Act might mean in terms of costs and changes.