Howard County firefighters overwhelmingly approved a new union contract yesterday that would improve retirement benefits in exchange for scheduling and other concessions.
The 50-3 vote was a step toward resolving a bitter dispute between the union and the Howard County Council, which rejected a similar package last spring, when council Republicans objected to letting firefighters retire with full benefits after 20 years.
The contract approved yesterday would keep the minimum retirement age at 25 years, but would increase payments to those who retire at that age to 57 1/2 percent of their salary for the rest of their lives.
After 30 years on the job, retirement payments would climb to 65 percent.
The current contract gives lower retirement payments: 50 percent after 25 years, and 60 percent after 30 years.
Union President Jeff Loomis complained that the new contract does not make Howard County competitive with several surrounding jurisdictions that allow full retirement after 20 years.
But he said it was an improvement over the current contract.
"We're as happy as we can be," Loomis said.
The County Council still must ratify the contract, but council Republicans have said they would accept the deal as long as the eligibility for full retirement does not begin until after the 25th year.
In exchange for the improved retirement, the firefighters union approved several concessions, including a plan to allow a new day-shift so that some fire stations can be staffed with volunteers at night and on weekends.
Pub Date: 7/16/97