Fire unions reach pact

Tentative agreement gives city firefighters 7% retroactive raise

`It's a good compromise'

Members get parity with police in 1st year, lesser increases in 2nd

March 02, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's two firefighters unions reached a tentative, two-year agreement with the city yesterday that gives them parity with police officers in the contract's first year, with smaller raises in the second year.

The parity issue was at the center of negotiations after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled last month that firefighters should receive the same 7 percent raises that police officers received this year.

The agreement gives firefighters and fire officers an additional 4 percent raise - a cost to the city of $3.2 million - on top of a 3 percent raise they received last July. The additional raise would be retroactive to July.

The back pay would not be dispensed until September, according to the agreement posted yesterday on the Web site of the Baltimore Firefighters Local 734.

In the contract's second year, firefighters and officers would get raises ranging from 3.5 percent to 6 percent, depending on seniority. Police are receiving 7 percent this year, 8 percent next year and 9 percent in the third year of their contract. Police officers with more than six years service will receive an extra 1 percent raise each year.

City and fire union officials said they were satisfied with the agreement.

"It's a good compromise. There are some very good features for the union and some very good features for the city," said Robert Hillman, the city's acting labor commissioner.

"I think it's very good. I feel very comfortable from the perspective of fire suppression personnel," said Steve Fugate, president of the Fire Officers Union, Local 964, representing 350 lieutenants, captains and battalion chiefs.

Rick Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Firefighters, declined to comment before his members vote.

The two unions - which represent 1,600 firefighters and officers - have scheduled votes for Monday and Tuesday.

According to union officials, the city has also agreed to drop its appeal of the parity decision to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

The $3.2 million in retroactive raises will be added to the city's projected $5 million deficit. City officials have said they do not know how they will balance the budget, but Mayor Martin O'Malley has said he would not rule out layoffs.

O'Malley administration officials did not return calls seeking comment last night.

Fugate said last night he was comfortable with the raises in the contract's second year, even though they are not at parity with police.

"It's my opinion that the mayor and his administration went way overboard" in paying police 7 percent raises, said Fugate.

But, he added, "We understand his desire to dramatically increase police salaries. What we're trying to do is allow the mayor to accomplish his goal of reining in the crime issue in Baltimore and hopefully in the long run we're all going to benefit," he said.

The contract also features an unusual two-year term for the two unions, which have a history of one-year agreements, said Hillman.

"We will have a new fire chief coming on board, and I think two years of labor peace with firefighters will be a good time for a new chief to be able to reorganize the department in whatever way he or she wants," said Hillman.

The city's longtime fire chief, Herman Williams, 69, retired last month after 47 years with the city government.

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