Impasse Hearing Gives Firefighters 1.5-Percent Bonus
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER – Another chapter in the sometimes acrimonious relationship between the City of Clearwater and its firefighters ended last week with an Impasse Hearing conducted by the City Council.
Prior to the passage of Amendment 1 earlier this year, the City offered firefighters a contract with 3-percent general wage increases for each of the agreement's three years, but that offer included some departmental operational changes that union leaders found unacceptable. The contract offer was never submitted to a rank and file union vote. The city declared impasse in June.
The city's current proposal is a “no change” zero-percent general wage increase, although employees continue to be eligible for “step” increases that vary with an employees length of service. The average step increase this year was 2.3 to 2.4-percent according to the city's Human Resources department.
John Lee, President of IAFF local 1158, presented the union's case at the impasse hearing, asking the Council to grant a 3-percent general wage increase for the contract year which is about to end. He claimed that the city's zero-percent offer would rank Clearwater's firefighters income 15th out of 19 departments in the local area, and fire/medics at 7th out of 19.
Lee's comparison's also included the city's other unions: Clearwater's police receiving a 4-percent increase and its general/administrative/labor employees receiving a 3-percent general wage increase effective October 1, 2007. The city's firefighters, he pointed out, received nothing despite a 3-percent increase having been budgeted.
The rising cost of healthcare was also cited, Lee claiming that a possible increase in the employee share of the city's healthcare benefits would result in an earnings decrease of between 3.81 and 5.56-percent for his union members.
Clearwater's labor attorney, Greg Hearing, presented the city's case for a “no change” contract. He claimed that despite the city's zero-percent raise offer, 66-percent of the firefighters would receive raises of 2.5 or 5-percent because of step increases, leaving only 33-percent of the employees without any increase in 2007/08.
He claimed that the city is not losing experienced firefighters and is having no difficulty recruiting new ones, implying that the current wage scale is competitive.
Hearing asked the Council to impose a no change contract and “not to give the union the incentive to come here to get that which it does not get at the bargaining table.”
After a 30-minute recess, the Council reconvened with a pragmatic approach to making their decision.
Each expressed dissatisfaction with both sides of the issue, Mayor Frank Hibbard saying he was “not happy with the behavior of the union or the performance of management at times.” Councilmember John Doran scolded both sides, saying, “I don't think that negotiations are supposed to occur here in City Hall, at least not at the dais.”
In the end, it came down to the dollars and cents reality of the city's shrinking revenues, recognized by Councilmember Paul Gibson's statement that “the city simply does not have the money to fund 5.5 to 6-percent raises each year.”
The Council approved a 1.5-percent firefighter “bonus”, not a wage increase, for the fiscal year just ending, and sent city management and the firefighters union back to the bargaining table for next year.
Only Councilmember Carlen Petersen opposed the bonus, claiming that it was a “bad precedent to set” for future union negotiations. The Communications Workers of America contract is expiring, and collective bargaining has already begun.
The 2007/08 firefighter bonus will cost city taxpayers about $172-thousand.
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition