City firefighters set to vote on contracts

Three-year deals offer 3 percent annual raises

September 09, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The two unions representing city firefighters are set to vote today on new contracts that could provide three years of labor peace for Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration by setting the stage for similar long-term deals with other municipal unions.

The members of the two firefighter unions are being asked to ratify three-year deals that offer 3 percent pay raises in each year of the contract, which would begin retroactive to July 1. The raises would kick in Jan. 1 of each year beginning next year. The deal also calls for the union members to pay more for health care, say sources familiar with the negotiations.

"No one is going to buy a new car out of this," said Steve Fugate, president of the Fire Officers Union Local 964, which represents lieutenants to battalion chiefs. "But in comparison with what other jurisdictions have gotten, it's fair."

The city signed two-year contracts last year with the firefighter unions and with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 that provided no pay raises. Those contracts, however, allowed for renegotiating wages for the second year.

Talks on wages this summer with the firefighters unions ended in arbitration, with the unions asking for a 4 percent raise and the city offering none. An arbitrator's decision is pending. The city presented the idea of a new three-year contract with a compromise of 3 percent raises that would end the impasse.

If the 1,600 members of the Baltimore Fire Officers Union Local 964 and the Baltimore City Firefighters Union Local 734, which represents the rank and file, ratify the three-year deal, the city would then press the Fraternal Order of Police to approve a similar contract.

Firefighters union leaders said many of their members may reject the offer and take their chances with arbitration.

"It's not going to be an easy sell," said Richard G. Schluderberg, president of the Baltimore City Fire Fighters Local 734.

The city is asking that the firefighters and officers pay more for health care. They now pay 15 percent for premiums with preferred provider networks and nothing for health maintenance organizations. The new deal calls for them to pay up to 20 percent for preferred provider networks and 10 percent for HMOs beginning Jan. 1, 2006 -- but only if the Fraternal Order of Police also agrees to similar increases.

Baltimore Labor Commissioner Sean R. Malone said the city wants to provide long-term labor stability to city agencies such as the police and fire departments.

"One-year deals are not an efficient way to handle business," Malone said.

City labor officials also approached leaders of two other unions -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44 and the City Union of Baltimore -- to see whether they would be receptive to early negotiations. Both signed two-year deals last year.

Glenard C. Middleton, president of the AFSCME local, said he assumed Malone would want his union to agree to contracts providing the same three-year terms offered the police and fire unions.

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