Union ties concessions to manager’s ouster
The city declared an impasse Friday during labor negotiations after the fire union offered concessions dependent on the city’s manager resignation.
The city’s labor negotiators and the Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 were meeting for the second time since August, when the union’s membership rejected the tentative agreements that were reached.
The tentative agreements had called for a 3 percent pay cut and a 2 percent pension contribution increase for battalion chiefs and rank-and-file staff.
Rank-and-file voted 166-0 to reject, and battalion chiefs voted 11-0.
When the parties returned to the table Tuesday, the union proposed a “me too clause” tied to the city manager’s contract that would have equated to a pay increase for staff. The city counterproposed with an 8 percent pay cut.
On Friday, the union countered that proposal with just under $1.5 million in concessions, with the stipulation that City Manager Gary King would have to permanently resign. Rank and file’s proposal would have lasted three years.
“That means that when he resigns, he can’t come back,” Mark Muerth, the union’s president, said referring to the “permanent” resignation.
John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, questioned the union’s motives.
Muerth explained that the union feels that one of the biggest problems with the recent negotiation process has been what he calls King’s ineffective leadership.
“His failure to share the sacrifice with the employees,” he said.
King recently was awarded a $17,750 incentive package. His contract called for up to $20,000. In August, King proposed another package of up to $27,500 next year.
“We feel like, at this point, if the employees are actually going to do what they can to help the city with this financial situation, it needs an effective leader,” Muerth said.
Hament questioned how the union got to the point of requesting the city manager’s resignation, and voiced plans to file on behalf of the city an unfair labor practice charge with the state in regards to “bad faith” bargaining.
“You can have your opinion,” he said. “But to put it as a condition of bargaining is an amazing offense.”
Hament cited the “me too” clause from Tuesday as well.
“It was totally disconnected from these negotiations. It had no rational basis,” he said. “I think, in my opinion, it was purely politically motivated.”
Prior to formally declaring an impasse over negotiations with the union, Hament further addressed the union’s proposal and $1.5 million in savings. He called the offer “unacceptable” because it revolved around pensions.
The proposal for the battalion chiefs had involved freezing wages, a 5 percent pension contribution increase on top of the current 7 percent and a stipulation that every time the city’s annual pension contribution decreased by 5 percent, the employee pension contribution would drop by 1 percent.
Rank and file’s proposal had the same terms, along with the continuation of the buyback program and the elimination of a $500 annual uniform allowance for each person, which would have meant about $75,000 per year in savings.
“It’s uncertain for us because unless the union approves it, we cannot do anything about that variable,” Hament said about pension contributions.
“That’s why we moved our variable to the pay cut variable,” he said, referring to the city’s previously proposed 8 percent wage reduction.
Muerth voiced surprise over the city’s response to the proposals.
“I think we provided them a substantial amount of concessions,” he said.
Asked about the city’s reaction to the stipulation that King resign, Muerth called it negotiating and said anything can be put on the table or rejected.
“This entire session, what they’ve been asking for, they’ve been out of line,” he added.
King took a different view after Friday’s negotiations.
“It strikes me as being unprofessional, thoroughly unreasonable. It was meant to provoke,” he said of the resignation stipulation. “It was certainly not good faith bargaining.”
As for the statement about filing an unfair labor practice charge with Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission, Hament explained that he would research whether the city has the grounds to file the claim over the “me too” clause and the resignation stipulation put forward by the union.
Despite an official impasse, bargaining does continue.
The city and union will meet again next week.
Kunkel, Miller & Hament have been representing the city in the labor negotiations. As of Friday, the city had paid the firm about $252,963 for its services, according to the City Clerk’s Office.
An invoice for about $6,711 for services running from July 21 through Aug. 17 had yet to be paid.