After wondering where it came apart in June when he announced a three-year contract with no raises only to have the agreement shot down by city firefighters, Mayor Joseph Solomon announced Thursday night that the union’s membership has approved a three-year “revenue neutral” tentative agreement. The agreement, which would take effect July 1, 2019, still needs City Council approval.
If approved, the city would for the first time establish a trust that would help pay for retirees’ other post-employment benefits, or OPEB. Firefighters hired after July 1, 2019, of which there are none at this point, would pay 2 percent of their pay into the trust – which, upon their retirement, would annually help pay an estimated 27 percent of the cost of those benefits.
Michael D’Amico, executive assistant/consultant to the administration who served on the negotiating team, sees the provision as a model for other municipal contracts in the effort to address the projected escalating cost of retiree health care. Under this plan, retirees would get full health care – there’s no co-pay – but the cost would be offset with funding from the trust. Further, the agreement does not impact existing retirees who are receiving fully paid health care, for as D’Amico points out, they are not members of the union and not subject to terms of an agreement.
Other key components of the agreement are:
• A reduction in the paid sick days from 20 to 16
• Elimination of two paid personal days, meaning firefighters would have no paid personal days for a savings of about $200,000.
• The elimination of Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays as paid holidays and the creation of a Presidents’ Day holiday, resulting in an overall reduction in paid holidays from 14 to 13 for a savings of $85,000.
• No increase in pay for the year starting July 1, 2019, followed by a 2 percent increase in pay on July 1, 2020 and another 2 percent on July 1, 2021.
• This still leaves out the year ending July 1, 2019, which is in arbitration. D’Amico explained the two sides have agreed to drop all proposals before the arbitrator with the exception of pay. Furthermore, the union has reduced its proposal for a 5 percent increase to 3 percent. Meanwhile, the city is holding its proposal at 1.5 percent. D’Amico did not venture on how the arbitrator would rule, but assuming the ruling is somewhere between the two proposals, he said the city has budgeted $750,000 as a “contingency” for the increase. He said every 1 percent pay increase equates to $250,000.
• The city would drop its appeal of the arbitration ruling that found firefighters hired after July 1, 2015, were subject to a tier II pension plan, as police and municipal employees agreed. The tier II system will now apply to firefighters hired after July 1, 2019. This affects about 60 firefighters who will get the higher benefits of the tier I plan. D’Amico felt this was a reasonable agreement as there was no certainty on how the court might rule.
l Firefighters would go on a 24-hour shift – 10 day hours and 14 night hours. Under the plan, which D’Amico said is similar to that in Providence and Boston, following a 24-hour shift, firefighters would get two days off. After the two days they would have another 24-hour shift, which would be followed by a 24-hour shift and a repeat of the cycle. D’Amico said this works out to a 42-hour work week that firefighters are now working. He said the schedule allows for firefighters to better plan their lives and has been shown in other departments a reduction in the use of sick time and the need for overtime.
l The contract would increase the time between the increase in pay for Grade 3 firefighters and Grade 1 firefighters. Under the current contract, Grade 3 firefighters are paid $947 a week, which is elevated to $1,033 for Grade 2 after one year and then to $1,312 for Grade 1 after another year. Under the new contract, the time between grades and a pay increase would go from one to two years. D’Amico didn’t project what this might save the city, but he feels it could dramatically reduce overtime costs as it would incentivize the city to fill the ranks rather than pay overtime that is less costly than hiring personnel.
D’Amico said neither minimum manning provisions – which are a principal driver of overtime costs – nor the fact that the city has nine fire stations were discussed. Under minimum manning, the city is to have 45 firefighters on duty at all times.
In a statement released by his office Thursday night, Solomon said, “I thank the union membership for working with me and my administration to come to an agreement that is fair to our firefighters and addresses a great number of taxpayers’ concerns. With the first-of-its-kind OPEB trust, this contract creates a template to forge a new way forward in helping to manage retirement benefit costs in the future.”
In addition to Solomon, the city’s negotiating team included D’Amico, Chief of Staff William DePasqualle and attorneys Vincent Ragosta and Timothy Bliss.
Michael Carreiro, president of IAFF Local 2748, called the tentative agreement that was approved by 90 percent of the members Thursday night “a great step in the right direction.” He concurred that the 24-hour shift would reduce overtime and would not impair service to the community. He noted the 24-hour shift works for Providence and Boston firefighters.
Carreiro, seven members of the union’s executive board and attorney Joe Penza negotiated on behalf of the union. Carreiro observed he has been in negotiations ever since becoming president of the local or almost two years. He’s pleased with the result.
The City Council is expected to consider the tentative agreement on Dec. 16.