The City's deadline on its "take it or leave it" offer to the firefighters' union is fast approaching.
Council has set Friday as the day a deal needs to be finalized. If not, the $5 million it has set aside to increase firefighter pay and benefits over the next two years will be off the table.
The two sides have been going back and forth since last April, and with the City Council's deadline to get a deal done now just two days away, it seems the two sides are wanting to come to an agreement.
"The goal is, when we come back, I would really like for us to stay and get as much done as we can," Assistant City Manager Margie Rose said. "I would like for us to stay and get a contract today. Well, that would be good too."
Rose spoke with fire union negotiator Kerry Eyring between a break in the talks at the Central Library. The City said the entire pay and benefits package it is offering to the firefighters needs to be signed, sealed and delivered by July 13. If not, the five or so million that would have gone to increase firefighter pay and benefits would be used by the City elsewhere.
The fire union is not happy about the deadline and the threat, but are still working to try and get close to the City's $5 million offer.
"I feel that would be a mistake on the City's part to do that, but I can't say whether they're going to do that or not do it," Eyring said. "We're going to get a contract eventually, and the way things are going right now, I don't think we're going to agree to a contract for the next two years that is zero, zero, zero, no benefits or anything. So to me, it's ill-advised to do something with that money, but that's not my call."
A sticking point in the negotiations has been the firefighters' insurance coverage. The City said that firefighters use it so much that the expense is much more than the police department's. Fire union members said that there's been a spike in firefighter cancer cases, and that's the reason for the added insurance costs.
The union and City are still negotiating at this moment, and both sides say they would like to try and come to an agreement. Now, if the two sides can't work out an agreement, firefighters are not allowed to go on strike; but the union does say that morale will suffer and they may start losing more firefighters to higher paying departments.
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