Editor's note: In advance of the city's Act 47 recovery plan recommendation, the Mirror examined the city union contracts with workers.
Today: Introduction and firefighter contract
Monday: Police contract, crossing guards
City firefighters climb a ladder to get to hot spots at a fire in January off Chestnut Avenue in Altoona.
Tuesday: Non-uniformed worker contract
Thursday: City manager contract, memorandum of understanding with supervisors
Friday: Salary chart
The city firefighters' contract calls for annual across-the-board raises of 2 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent, as applied to base pay.
Firefighters also get raises as they work through a probation period, then through five hoseman "classes," each year earning a higher percentage of first-class hoseman's pay. They start with 60 percent, followed by 70 percent for fifth-class hoseman, 75 percent for fourth class, then 80, 90 and 100 percent.
Moving through those classifications takes up to five years.
For 2012, a hoseman's first-class pay was $48,880.
After finishing the hoseman climb, firefighters begin earning annual longevity bonuses that are calculated as a percentage of base pay, with the percentage rising for individual firefighters every five years - as laid out in a chart in the contract.
Though calculated on base pay, the bonuses don't raise base pay for the following year.
For years six to 10 of a firefighter's career, the bonus is 2.5 percent of base pay. For years 11-15, the bonus is 4.5 percent of base pay.
There are three other steps on the longevity scale, each step 2.5 percent higher than the previous one. The last step - for firefighters with 25 or more years' service - generates a bonus of 10.5 percent.
Each firefighter on regular hours averages 42 hours a week - with no overtime being paid for those two hours beyond 40.
Firefighters get time-and-a-half pay from January through July and in December if they exceed 42 hours a week. They don't get time-and-a-half from August through November until they exceed 53 hours a week.
They get time-and-a-half any time they're called in for emergencies.
Firefighters receive straight-time pay for being on-call at home.
Firefighters get 13 days' pay in lieu of holidays and earn up to 26 days of vacation annually.
For the first 10 years, they earn 16 days per year. For the next four years, they earn 20 days. For the next five, they earn 22. For the next five, 24. After 25 years, they earn the maximum 26.
Firefighters can choose vacation dates according to seniority within their platoons - subject to the discretion of the chief and the need for the department to run an orderly and efficient operation.
The city compensates firefighters for vacation not taken upon resignation, furlough or retirement.
Firefighters get three days of bereavement leave for the death of a close relative or one living in the same household. They get one day for the death of a more distant relative.
Firefighters get 21 days per year sick leave and can accumulate up to 203 sick days. When they retire, they get 40 percent of the value of unused sick days. Alternatively, when those hired before 2005 retire with at least 20 years' service and an accumulation of at least half the maximum sick leave, they can waive most of their sick day reimbursement and instead get all their health insurance premiums paid until they reach the age of Medicare eligibility.
Even if they accept the post-retirement health care coverage, they still get 20 percent of the value of the sick days they've accumulated in excess of 102 days - up to the maximum 203 days.
After those who take the insurance subsidy reach the age of Medicare eligibility, they can continue coverage for their spouses at their own expense until the spouse reaches Medicare eligibility. If the firefighter himself dies before reaching Medicare eligibility, the city pays for the spouse's coverage until she reaches Medicare eligibility.
Those hired after the beginning of 2005 get no post-retirement health care coverage, but if they keep working past 20 years, they are eligible for a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), where they plow pension contributions they're eligible to receive into retirement investment accounts as an alternative to health coverage.
Those hired before 2005 can waive their right to buy into post-retirement health care with their unused sick leave and buy into the DROP instead, using their sick leave for that buy-in.
Firefighters who use sick leave on four consecutive work days must provide a doctor's confirmation of illness. Firefighters suspected of abusing sick leave, based on red flags specified by the contract, must provide confirmation of illness.
Firefighters get incentive pay for using little or no sick leave.
Those who use no more than one sick day in a year can get a $150 bonus. Those using two can get $100. Those using three can get $50.
If a firefighter has accumulated at least 203 sick days before the beginning of a year, he can exchange sick days for pay days: 21 sick days for six days' pay; 19 for five days' pay; 17 for four days' pay.
Firefighters and their dependents are covered by the Highmark Qualified High Deductible Health Plan or equivalent. This plan is accompanied by a health savings account. Deductible is $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for families. The city pays 80 percent of deductibles in 2011, 65 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2013 - with those city payments going into firefighters' health savings accounts. There are no co-pays.
Employees, however, contribute $25 a month in co-shares with pre-tax money toward premiums for individual plans and $75 a month toward family plans. Prescription coverage is included.
Firefighters who opt out of health coverage get 40 percent of the city's costs.
Firefighters get dental insurance identical to that provided to the police - with the city paying the entire bill.
Firefighters also get optical coverage at the city's expense.
They get $75,000 in life insurance coverage with "double indemnity/accidental death and dismemberment" coverage, fully paid by the city. After retirement, firefighters can continue that coverage at their own expense.
The city pays for on-duty liability coverage for all firefighters.
The city provides spouses and children of firefighters killed on duty with "then-current" health coverage if commercially available until the spouse becomes eligible for Medicare and the children turn 19 or cease being full-time students, whichever happens later.
Firefighters called to military duty continue to receive full wages and benefits, including seniority and credit for length of service.
Firefighters with duty-related disabilities get full salary and benefits, but can't work for pay elsewhere during hours when they would normally be scheduled to work as firefighters.
Firefighters who can't perform all their work, but who can do some things, go on modified duty or needed work ordinarily performed by uninjured firefighters. Modified duty workers don't need to wear uniforms that are "confrontational," or do work that is beneath their station in the department.
A firefighter's doctor must certify the need for modified duty.
After a firefighter completes six months of modified duty, the city has the option of taking it away.
Firefighters contribute 5 percent of their gross salaries - base salary, longevity, holiday pay and overtime - to their pension plans.
They can retire with pension after 20 years.
According to the Third Class City Code, the firefighter's main pension benefit equals half his monthly salary at time of retirement or half the average of his five highest-earning years or - if he leaves the service before retiring - a percentage of his monthly salary at time of vesting.
Vesting occurs after 12 years.
The city calculates the benefit percentage for those who don't retire directly from the department by creating a ratio of their years of service - provided it's more than 12 - against the 20 years they would have had to work to qualify for retirement.
Firefighters also receive $100 per month added to their pension benefit as a retirement incentive, a payment the city initiated to encourage more senior and higher paid firefighters to retire, so they could replace those with lower paid, new firefighters.
Retirees also receive up to $500 a month as a "service increment" for working beyond 20 years. They get the full $500 if they work an additional two years beyond the minimum 20 .
Firefighters who retired after 1996 get annual cost-of-living raises on their pension benefit until it reaches 75 percent of what they earned as active firefighters in the year the city used to calculate their pensions.
Firefighters with fewer than 10 years' service who are unable to continue as a result of off-duty issues receive a pension of 25 percent of annual pay. Service-disabled firefighters with more than 10 years' service receive 50 percent of their annual pay.
Such payments continue until the death of both the firefighter and spouse and until children turn 19 or cease being full-time students - whichever comes later.
The city may not reduce a pension benefit once a firefighter has earned it.
Each firefighter hired after the beginning of 2000 must maintain certifications for "firefighter I," CPR, first responder and Hazmat Recognition and Identification.
Each firefighter hired after the beginning of 2000 must also be certified as a Firefighter II and as an emergency medical technician after reaching hoseman fifth class.
Equipment drivers must take courses for pump and emergency vehicle operations, and those hired after the beginning of 2005 must obtain authorization from the fire chief to operate vehicles - after demonstrating competence.
The city pays for all required uniforms, equipment and training.
Firefighters who maintain certification as hazmat technicians and membership on the hazmat team get an annual $100 bonus.
Firefighters can elect to have management-imposed discipline - including suspensions and terminations - handled as grievances, instead of by the Civil Service Commission.
The fire chief and a grievance committee of three union members appointed by the union president work through a four-step protocol when there's a grievance.
In the first step, the committee meets with the fire chief for fact-finding. In the second step, the committee presents its argument to the chief. In the third, the city manager meets with the grievance committee and the aggrieved worker. In the fourth, the city or union can refer the matter to binding arbitration.
The sides split the cost, unless the arbitrator determines one side acted in bad faith, in which case, it pays the whole cost.
Union officials and delegates get a total of 23 days a year with pay to carry out union business.
The department works with four "platoons," each working four consecutive days - two 10-hour daylight shifts beginning at 7 a.m., and two 14-hour night shifts beginning at 5 p.m.
The city must fill vacancies - if it fills them at all - by promoting firefighters in-house.
When a vacancy occurs, the senior firefighter within that job class who bids on that job gets it, provided he can show competence within 30 days.
If no one bids, the city appoints the firefighter with the least seniority, provided he's qualified.
When a firefighter's position is abolished, the firefighter can bump a less-senior employee. Such bumping can set off a chain-reaction of bumping, with those at the end of the chain going into reserve.
If the city and union negotiate the creation of an EMS service, seniority governs firefighters' ability to bid into it.
The city maintains 13 firefighters on duty always, not including the fire inspector/fire marshal, non-"fire suppression" workers and those on light duty. The on-duty contingent includes an assistant chief.
The city dispatches all apparatus and all non-suppression bargaining unit members into duty to all alarms and should work toward the OSHA-recommended stationing of two fully equipped firefighters outside a burning structure for every two stationed inside, in case of the need for rescue.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.