Firefighters, city disagree on pay increase issue

Union seeking meeting to discuss contract terms
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Is the city not agreeing to share the burden? Or are firefighters asking for more in a time when there is less? Details emerged this week as to why the city of Auburn and its firefighters have been stalled in contract negotiations since March. This week, city council members unanimously voted to impose a one-year contract during which firefighters’ pay and benefits would be reduced by 12 percent. Richard Reed, who was hired to represent the Auburn Firefighters Association, said firefighters are frustrated that city management didn’t agree to withhold any bonuses or pay increases while firefighters are being asked to take a 3.15 percent cut in base salary and 9 percent in the employees’ PERS contribution. “The firefighters wanted a guarantee that if they give up their salary increases, no one else in the city is going to get a salary increase during the same time,” Reed said. “From what I was told, the city wouldn’t put that in writing.” City manager Bob Richardson, however, countered that the council does not intend to offer any bonuses this fiscal year and didn’t want to determine one union’s contract based on an agreement with another. Richardson said the city’s negotiator drafted a letter regarding whether or not managers would receive raises but it was “deemed unacceptable” by the firefighters association. He said could not comment on the details of negotiations, including what was in the letter, but said the council “has no intention of providing bonuses this year.” When asked what issue in negotiations was most difficult for city officials Richardson said compensation was one. “We simply could not see increasing compensation during a difficult financial time,” Richardson said. Richardson declined to comment further as to what specifically the union was requesting. Reed did not return a call Friday afternoon asking for further comment. The union hired Reed Oct. 17 to help with the stalled negotiation process. Immediately, Reed said he sent two letters to the city. One letter informed them that he would be representing the union and another requested that they hold off on imposing a contract until they could meet again with the city’s negotiator and a mediator. Reed said the city’s request that the union send over their new ideas in writing first does not meet the terms of meeting in good faith. Richardson said city counsel “doesn’t concur” with that idea. He said the city has requested the new proposals in writing so it can prepare ahead of time for the meeting. Reed said union members “absolutely understand” the current economic climate and are willing to take their share of cuts. However, he added that firefighters work one-third more hours a year than the average city employee. Reed said most city workers log about 2,080 hours a year while firefighters work about 2,912 hours a year. “They should take a cut similar to what other city employees but due to the nature of work they do, it’s pretty hard to furlough firefighters when the city has to work them overtime just to meet the minimum staffing for safety requirements,” Reed said. Richardson said the cuts imposed on firefighters Monday will save the city about $63,753 and amount to about 8 percent of the $763,711 in total payroll budget cuts for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Other unions in the city including police, Local 39 and upper and mid-management, have taken pay or staffing cuts, Richardson said. The police union’s cuts amounted to $154,786, Local 39’s cuts were about $394,759 and management salary reductions were $150,413, Richardson said. While long-time Auburn resident Jeff Patton said he understands the difficult economic times, he said overall cuts should be from elsewhere other than to public safety. “We want to retain our public safety and emergency services personnel,” Patton said. “We should be looking at nonessential jobs as places where we can make the cuts.” Jenifer Gee can be reached at