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Fire union members reject contract

By Staff | Aug 6, 2011

The local fire union’s rank and file members and battalion chiefs shot down their tentative agreements with the city Friday in two unanimous votes.

After four days of casting ballots, members of the Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 rejected tentative agreements reached with the city that called for a 3 percent pay cut and a 2 percent pension contribution increase.

Rank and file employees voted 166-0 to reject their tentative contract, while the fire department’s battalion chiefs voted 11-0 to reject their agreement.

The contracts, along with reductions in areas such as leave pay, were expected to provide the city with an annual savings of about $1.5 million to $2 million.

“At this point, I’m not surprised based on what’s transpired over the past month,” Mark Muerth, the union’s president, said of the final tallies. “It was doomed to fail just based on the rhetoric coming out of the (city) council.”

He referenced “attacks” on city employees, including firefighters.

“I feel quite certain that the continued attacks on firefighters and other city workers by these public officials and council’s continued attempt to disrupt the public has hit the boiling point,” Muerth said.

“Council’s insatiable appetite for chaos makes it very clear that the majority of the council members have no interest in working with employees, they merely wish to continue to demoralize them,” he continued.

Muerth said council called for even deeper cuts from employees after the parties had reached the tentative agreements. The contracts also went far beyond a 5 percent wage reduction as reported by city officials, he added.

“We had some members that would have experienced cuts as large as 19 percent,” Muerth said.

The union supported an effort to have council vote on the agreements before it as a good faith measure. The council postponed that vote.

“It led individuals to believe that they weren’t in support of it,” he said.

Muerth added that the tentative agreements took more than a year to negotiate, but they were only good for two months.

On June 29, members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 voted 185-1 to reject their tentative agreements with the city. The contracts called for the same 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent pension contribution increase for officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

Kurt Grau, president of the union, explained that the combination of union members’ previous concessions, an improving economic outlook and the city manager’s refusal to make the same sacrifices led to the union members’ rejection.

Soon after coming to an agreement on the tentative contracts, council agreed to provide City Manager Gary King $17,750 in incentive payments. Up to $20,000 in performance payments was part of his contract.

“Our membership felt the city manager receiving a bonus, while workers take yet another wage reduction was insulting and a slap in the face to every police officer who serves and protects this community,” Grau had reported.

He also noted that the union made several other contract proposals during negotiations that would have saved the city money during this budget year, while not hurting officers’ pay as much, but the city rejected the proposals.

Grau stated the city’s labor negotiators had the union believe that the city was in an emergency financial situation, with King projecting an 8 percent cut in ad valorem tax values – a revenue shortfall of about $9.6 million or more.

Final calculations in July showed that the reduction would be 2.5 percent.

On Friday, Grau expressed some surprise over the unions’ votes.

“I’m kind of surprised by their vote, as well as ours,” he said. “It shows that the employees that keep this city safe are not happy with the direction that city council is taking.”

Grau noted that the police union is still open to an agreement.

“I think we can definitely meet with the city and try to come up with a solution here,” he said. “I think the concessions they were asking were just too much for them (union members) to swallow.”

As of Friday, a meeting had been set up between the city and police union.

“We’ll be speaking to the union leaderships to determine what the issues are and seeing where we go from here,” Connie Barron, the spokeswoman for the city, said Friday.

She called the fire union’s rejection of the agreements a disappointment.

“It is disappointing when you bargain in good faith for several months, come to an agreement with union leadership, shake hands on that agreement with union leadership, and then when it’s put through the union membership for a vote, it doesn’t appear to even have the support of the union leadership,” Barron said.

The law firm Kunkel, Miller & Hament has been representing the city in the labor negotiations. As of Thursday, the city had paid the firm $242,970 for its services, according to the City Clerk’s Office.