Monday, December 10, 2007

Vote on proposed fire contract postponed


A contract between the City of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara City Firefighters Association has been put on hold due to procedural issues, despite hopes to get the tentative agreement approved by both parties before the holidays.
“According to our bylines, we have to give our members seven days to review [the proposal], think about it, and then we start voting,” said Capt. Pat McElroy, president of the firefighters association. “We were attempting to get that done before the end of the year because this is taking so long.”

He said the association requested that the City Council put the issue on its agenda in the event they could discuss and vote on the agreement in time for Council discussion Tuesday.
However, since city and fire negotiators reached the tentative deal last Wednesday, the firefighters association could not give its members enough time to look over the agreement and vote in time for tomorrow's Council meeting.
“Procedurally, we’re kind of in a logjam,” Capt. McElroy said.
He said the proposed contract has been available to members on the association’s website since last week and informational meetings are currently taking place. Anonymous voting will start next Monday through the association’s website.
“We’ll have our vote settled sometime before Christmas,” he said.
However, the City Council will not meet again after its Dec. 18 meeting until January 8. That appears to be the target date for city leaders to approve the agreement, if ratified by the firefighters association, City Administrator Jim Armstrong said.
“The asked us to sort of rush it through, but it didn’t work out,” Armstrong said. “…We still fully expect that the firefighters will eventually ratify the agreement.”
Details of the tentative proposal found on the city’s website show that fire employees will receive between a 2 percent and 3 percent increase in their base salary every six months through July 2010. The agreement also increases the city’s maximum monthly contribution to family medical insurance premiums by $175.55 each year of the three-and-a-half year deal.
Other changes include yearly increases in standby pay for prevention employees and an increase in the number of firefighters who can be granted vacation in any given week. Under the deal, retiree medical insurance contributions will also increase to $10 per month per year of service with a cap of 35 years, or $350 a month.
City employee relations manager Kristine Schmidt estimated the annual ongoing budget impact of the proposed agreement at around $3 million in a report to city leaders. About $80,000 in reserve funds will be needed to cover the salary and benefit increases in fiscal year 2008, according to the report.
Capt. McElroy said after examining 16 cities considered comparable to Santa Barbara, he feels the agreement will bring the city fire department “pretty close” to the median salary level.
“Never say never, but it’s something we felt we could bring back to our membership for a vote,” he said. “We don’t usually bring something back unless we feel it is a representative of a good effort by our negotiators.”
While negotiations intensified in May as the end of the previous contract neared, Capt. McElroy said fire negotiators have been holding discussions with city officials for several years, fairly soon after wrapping up their previous negotiations.
“It was our goal to have this concluded by the time our contract ended, which was the end of June,” he said. “…There have been some bumps along the way.”

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