The city and two unions representing Fire Department employees have reached a tentative agreement that averts the layoffs of 252 firefighters who had been scheduled to receive pink slips today.
Union officials and city negotiators declined to reveal details of the agreement reached after an all-night bargaining session, which ended early yesterday, until union members have seen it. Union members should receive copies of the agreement over the weekend.
"We're not going to get into the particulars of the agreement," said Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Fire Fighters Local 734. "All we can say is that the proposal negates the need for layoffs."
Union members have 10 days to ratify the deal, said Jesse E. Hoskins, the city's acting labor commissioner.
But while both sides said that the agreement averts Fire Department layoffs -- at least until next July -- it is unclear whether it will change Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's plans to close five firehouses and disband 11 fire companies on Dec. 6. "The mayor is not going to comment until after the the agreement has been ratified," said Clinton R. Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary.
The city also is moving to soften announced plans to close eight libraries because of an $1.3 million cut in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's $16 million budget.
"The communities in many of the areas are very concerned about the possible loss of their libraries," said Averil Kadis, spokeswoman for the Pratt Library. "We've been asked to come up with some plan that might use volunteers to staff the branches in some way."
Kadis said library officials hoped to develop a plan that trustees can approve early next week.
"I think there is a possibility that some of these facilities can remain open as homework centers and reading rooms," Schmoke said.
While it appears that firefighter layoffs will be averted for this year, pink slips were to be sent today to some 149 other city employees whose jobs are being eliminated because of cuts in state aid to Baltimore. The jobs are to be eliminated Dec. 6.
Details of the Fire Department deal are being held tightly, but the negotiations centered on restoring $3.5 million to the Fire Department, money that the city had put into a reserve fund.
The fund was established to cover the city if it loses an appeal of a lawsuit filed by firefighters to force the city to give members a 6 percent raise won in arbitration but withheld last summer.
Negotiators said that under the tentative agreement, firefighters would give up the pay raise.
The money in the reserve fund would allow the Fire Department to get through the rest of this fiscal year without losing jobs by filling a budget gap created when Gov. William Donald Schaefer cut $27.2 million in state aid to the city. It also would stop the demotion of about 100 fire officers.
But city officials, apparently, made no promises about layoffs after the current fiscal year. Currently, some 500 firefighters have more than 25 years of service, even though they are eligible for retirement after 20 years.
But retirements have all but halted since last spring, when the fire unions put together an early retirement proposal that would have created new incentives for firefighters to leave the force.
But that proposal has been rejected by Schmoke, and now city officials hope that will spur retirements and allow the city to reduce the firefighter ranks through attrition.
"We're hoping that there will be a large number of retirements," said Edward J. Gallagher, the city's budget chief.