To the Editor:
On January 6, after over 12 hours of debate, the City Council voted to ratify the new three-year firefighters contract. I would like to thank all the members of our community who contacted me to share their thoughts about why they either supported or opposed this contract. I made sure to listen to each person who called, texted or emailed. Some I had the chance to speak with for over an hour. Others I had the privilege of talking with on a number of occasions. These conversations ranged from examining particular aspects of the contract to learning from members of our community about their overall feelings about the contract. At the recent council meeting I outlined how I came to my decision to vote in favor of ratification. These are the comments I made: This is a negotiated package that was a series of compromises between two parties. Parts of it I like, other parts I do not like. As a councilman, I have to look at this contract as a whole. We on the council cannot change a comma. Tonight we are tasked with a yes or no vote. I think we should take a step back and look at what is in the contract. Wages: 0% increase in year one, 2% increase in year two, 2% increase in year three. This will save the City over $400,000 in the first year. The union agreed to give back 7 days to the city: 1 holiday, 4 sick days, and 2 personal days. This saves the taxpayers money. Structural changes for when new firefighters attain certain grades: It will take them an additional year to move up to the next grade, which saves the taxpayers money. 24 Hour shift schedule: This should reduce overtime costs. However, if it does not, the city can go back to the shift schedule we currently have. What should be highlighted is for the first time the city gets management rights to decide the best shift schedule for the taxpayers.
Settles the Tier 2 issue: Makes it crystal clear in the contract. The city lost on this issue. We fought it and lost. This will settle it once and for all.
Unprecedented OPEB trust for new hires: New firefighters will pay 2% each pay period toward their healthcare costs in retirement. This should be an example for other contracts going forward. Had we implemented this for new hires twenty years ago we would be in a much better position today.
This contract also clears up language on unused sick time payouts. This saves the taxpayers money.
What happens if we vote no tonight?
This entire agreement is null and void. We go back to arbitration. Everything negotiated in this TA (tentative agreement) goes away. It is not like the city gets to keep all these things then ask for more. We go back into arbitration, where the only guarantee is more legal costs for the city. We could lose all the givebacks I listed, plus we could put the taxpayers on the hook for many more costs.
For example, this contract calls for 0% increase in year one, 2% increase in year two, 2% increase in year three for wages. In arbitration this could be changed to anything. It could be decided the city has to pay 3%, 3%, 3% for those same three years because other contracts called for that in the past. There are other issues out there like minimum manning increases that could be a huge increase cost to the taxpayers.
No three-year contract is going to undo years of negotiations and contracts. Everyone in this room understands healthcare costs need to be addressed. This contract starts addressing healthcare for new hires going forward. But, we won’t stop there. I am willing to work with the council, mayor, fire department, and taxpayers to come up with a plan to address this issue. We all need to come together and everyone should be at the table.
Tonight before this council is a fair contract that has compromises from both sides. It includes a number of incremental improvements that put the city in a much better situation than we were in before.
Going back into arbitration, losing all the negotiated gains would be a huge gamble with the taxpayers’ money.
Therefore, I believe this contract puts us in a positive direction, and I will be supporting it tonight.
City Council Ward 7