Baltimore officials and union leaders representing the city's firefighters reached an agreement yesterday that will preclude any layoffs of firefighters during the fiscal year that ends June 30.
However, the proposal, which must still be approved by the mayor and 1,700 members of the unions representing the firefighters, does not affect the planned closing and consolidation of some of the city's fire stations. It also does not affect the planned elimination of 219 city positions outside the Fire Department.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that he would abolish 252 positions in the city's Fire Department. The move, which would have resulted in layoffs of scores of firefighters, was part of an effort to balance the city's budget. The mayor also announced the closing of five fire stations and the consolidation of 13 fire companies to partially offset the loss of $29 million in state aid.
During the past two weeks, city labor officials and union officials representing firefighters have been negotiating to see whether they could restore money to the Fire Department's budget and prevent the layoffs.
"We have constructed a proposal to release money to avoid layoffs," said Jesse E. Hoskins, the city's acting labor commissioner.
Mr. Hoskins refused to divulge the details of the agreement until the city's firefighters have had a chance to see the agreement.
Under the tentative agreement, reached after an all-night bargaining session that ended at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, firefighters would give up the 6 percent pay raise they won in a binding arbitration decision earlier this year. The city contested the pay raise decision but lost the case in Baltimore Circuit Court. The city appealed, but also had set aside about $3 million to pay for the raise in case it did not win the appeal.
"We believe this agreement will allow all the parties to meet their objectives," said Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734. "The agreement negates the reason for the layoffs."
John L. Seiss, president of the Fire Officers Local 964, said the proposal will be presented to union members within 10 days for a ratification vote.
Even though Mayor Schmoke has said fewer firefighters would be needed if the city closed and consolidated fire companies, he declined to address the issue of why so many firefighters would be retained under his plan to close five stations and consolidate 13 fire companies.
During the past year, retirements from the department have ground to a halt while the firefighters and the city haggled over a union proposal to offer lump-sum payments to firefighters who took early retirement, according to Mr. Seiss.
"As long as that plum was hanging out there, people stopped taking retirement," said David L. Glenn, chairman of the city's fire board.
He speculated last night that once the firefighters got the details of the agreement they would resume their normal rate of retirement, which is about 12 a month.
According to city officials, 500 firefighters have 20 years or more of service and are eligible to receive retirement benefits.
If the Fire Department experiences its normal rate of retirement, Mr. Glenn said, the department's size could be reduced by attrition rather than layoffs. The city had been prepared to send layoff notices this morning to firefighters. Mr. Hoskins said the notices would be "delayed."
Mayor Schmoke would not comment on the agreement yesterday, but he had indicated several times during the past two weeks that he would back down from the proposal to lay off firefighters if they backed off from their demands to receive a 6 percent pay raise.
In their original proposal, fire union leaders had hoped to get the city to guarantee no layoffs for the next 18 months. Yesterday's agreement only covers the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
"We can't make any predictions beyond this fiscal year," said Mr. DeLisle.