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Pay reductions, health insurance major sticking points in union negotiations

By Staff | May 17, 2011

Pay reductions and health insurance continued to be major sticking points during negotiations Tuesday between the city and local fire union.
Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Local 2424 stood by a 3 percent pay cut for rank and file employees along with a 2 percent pension contribution hike. The city has proposed a 6 percent pay cut coupled with a 2 percent pension increase, or a straight 8 percent pay cut as an alternative.
For the first time Tuesday, the union also offered a counterproposal to the city’s 10 percent pay reduction, plus 2 percent pension increase, for rescue services. It again offered up a 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent for pension.
The two groups also revisited the terms for battalion chiefs. At the prior meeting, the city had put forth a 4 percent pay cut along with a 2 percent pension contribution hike. A straight 6 percent pay cut was also offered.
Today, union officials suggested rolling add-on incentives for battalion chiefs into their base pay, then reducing that overall compensation by .5 percent. The union had previously proposed no pay reductions for this group.
Add-on incentives are extra pay for things like technical rescue or an EMT certification. For example, one battalion chief receives $35 bi-weekly for his EMT certification. They can collect on a maximum of six add-on incentives.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Mark Muerth, the union’s president. “We think it’s sending the wrong message.”
The Cape Fire Department currently employs 11 battalion chiefs.
John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, referred to the pay reduction differences and the union’s desire to retain the opt-out option on the city’s health insurance as “profound variables” they are not in agreement on.
“You have created a little more waves here with your numbers,” he said.
The city has proposed that the union come back to the city’s insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield. About 130 Cape firefighters, both active and retired, opted out and set up their own insurance with another provider.
The city is currently paying about $676 per employee for health insurance premiums. If the union does not return to the city’s health provider, the city has proposed that it will not cover the insurance premiums as of Sept. 30.
“We like where we’re at,” Muerth said.
He reiterated Tuesday that the union tried to push for changes in the city’s plan that would enable them to stay with Blue Cross, but were unsuccessful.
“We had no alternatives left,” Muerth said.
On Tuesday, the union proposed that it retain the opt-out option. It also proposed that as of the new year, the city raise the premium payout to the same amount that is being paid for other active and retired city employees.
The union dropped an earlier proposal of raising the payout by 7 percent.
Muerth again suggested that the city consider looking at other plans.
“I think they’ll be able to save money for themselves and for employees,” he said.
Hament acknowledged the union’s willingness to toss out the 7 percent increase for premiums, but repeated the city’s desire to eliminate the opt-out option and have union members return to the Cape’s insurance plan.
Other proposals brought forward Tuesday included the union offering a reduction in starting salaries for rank and file employees and accepting a reduction in the amount of buy-back hours that the city put on the table.
In relation to pension contributions, union officials also proposed leaving “drop money” for up to 10 years rather than the current five years. They said the Cape Police Department already has this option available to its officers.
Leave time and temporary position upgrades were also touched upon.
Hament said he would have to discuss the union’s proposals with his team and talk to city officials. The next meeting date has been set for June 3.