Firefighters’ contract approved

City Council on Wednesday approved a new three-year contract with the firefighter’s union that includes a freeze on wages and longevity payments for the duration of the contract and other limitations ordered by the city’s Act 47 distress recovery plan.

The union voted overwhelmingly to approve the contract last week, even though it will mean that the union members will earn about $5,000 less this year, according to union President Bryson Peterman.

The settlement of the deal avoids an arbitration hearing that had been scheduled for the end of this month – although Peterman said the union never intended to let the matter get that far.

The Act 47 coordinator and the city’s labor counsel both recommended that council approve the plan, City Manager Omar Strohm said.

The city previously came to agreements with the police and non-uniformed worker unions.

The firefighters’ contract:

n Limits overtime to hours actually worked and to some paid leave, but will not allow it for sick leave and compensatory time.

n Eliminates longevity pay for anyone who wasn’t already receiving it by the end of last year.

n Reduces vacation time for new hires anywhere from two to four days per year, compared to what current employees get.

n Installs Community Blue as the basic health plan, with an option to “buy up” to PPO Blue.

n Increases employees’ share of health insurance premiums anywhere from $25 to $75 per month to a total of $75 to $160 per month.

n Reduces the city’s payment to those who decline health insurance coverage from 40 percent of the city’s costs to 20 percent of those costs.

n Provides for post-retirement health insurance to match whatever plans are in place for employees at the time.

n Reduces sick leave from 21 to 15 days per year, days that will be available only when an employee works 75 percent of scheduled hours per month.

n Provides for the city to amend the fire pension plan for employees hired later than the start of this year based on 50 percent of base wage, a minimum 50 years of age and a minimum 20 years service, with no cost-of-living increases and no service increments.

As with the police and non-uniformed workers’ contracts, there were areas for which the recovery plan gave the parties scope for “swapout” negotiations, according to Strohm.

The firefighters took advantage by giving up a holiday in exchange for credit towards next year’s health insurance, he said.

A variety of pension issues raised in the Act 47 plan – and potentially subject to collective bargaining – remain unresolved, according to Strohm.

They were set aside so that the sides could go through with the contract, but the parties will seek to resolve them “in line with the [recovery] plan,” he said.

Councilman Erik Cagle commended all three unions for “good faith negotiations.”

Actually, there wasn’t much negotiation, “the plan [being] what it is,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

Still, the employees are “stakeholders,” and “we’re in this together,” said Councilman Bruce Kelley.

It was a “tough decision” to go into Act 47, but encouraging to see where the city is now, Cagle said.