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New fire union offer does not call for King’s leaving

By Staff | Sep 20, 2011

The fire union brought forward during labor negotiations Tuesday a new proposal that is not contingent on the city manager’s resignation.

The Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 proposed a plan that involves $1.165 million in savings – 7.6 percent of payroll – based on a pension contribution increase, cuts to holiday and vacation hours, and more.

According to Mark Muerth, the union’s president, members would contribute 10 percent toward pension, up 3 percent from a 7 percent contribution.

In addition to the $1.165 million, the city would save an additional $260,000 under the proposal as three positions become vacant in the coming cycle. He cited an extra $1.2 million in savings through an existing “pay step” freeze.

Muerth explained that the city saved approximately $300,000 per year in 2010 and 2011 because of the pay freeze in place. Under the new plan, pay increases would remain frozen over the next two years – 2012 and 2013.

“We’re giving up this product of the annual step increases,” Muerth said.

In total, the proposal is expected to save $2.5 million over a few years.

Earlier this month, the fire union offered nearly $1.5 million in concessions based on the stipulation that City Manager Gary King resign from his position. The city, which had been seeking an 8 percent pay cut, declared an impasse.

“We’re removing that stipulation or contingency in this package,” Muerth said, referring to the resignation requirement.

He called it “a proposal based on frustration” over King’s leadership.

John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, questioned the numbers Tuesday. He said the previous tentative agreements had totaled $1.8 million in savings.

Prior to the call for King’s resignation and declaration of impasse, the two parties reached tentative agreements of a 3 percent wage cut and 2 percent pension increase for both rank and file employees and the battalion chiefs.

Rank and file voted 166-0 to reject; battalion chiefs voted 11-0.

“The city is not interested in a 3/2 anymore, they want eight,” Hament said, referring to the city’s recently proposed, across-the-board pay reduction.

He added that an 8 percent wage cut would mean “$470,000 more in savings” than if the union had approved the 3/2 tentative agreements.

“We’ll have to think about it,” Hament said of Tuesday’s proposal.

Muerth explained that union leaders are working to come up with the $1.8 million in savings lost when the tentative agreements were passed over.

“Things are not as dire as they seem to be,” he said, referring to the city council’s recent decision not to lay off staffers to balance the budget. “Yet, we’re willing to come to the table in an effort to provide some concessions.”

Muerth voiced hope that the city would accept the proposal.

“We think we put a good package on the table,” he said.

Union leaders would like to have an agreement in place by October.

As the two parties continue with negotiations, the impasse stands. The city has waived the first step – mediation – which one party can do, by law. The next step is a special magistrate – law requires that both parties waive it.

The union will likely request the special magistrate, Muerth said Tuesday.

“We would like an independent counsel,” he said.

Hament previously said the city wants to waive the first two steps and take the issue directly to the legislative body, which would be the city council. The magistrate can provide a recommendation, but the council has the final say.

Kunkel, Miller & Hament has been representing the city in the negotiations with fire, as well as police and general employees. As of Sept. 7, the city had paid the firm $54,348 for its services in connection to the fire union talks.

It paid $74,318 in the police talks, and $114,527 over general employees.