City firefighter unions OK new contracts

Members win raises, may pay more for health care

September 10, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Members of the city's two firefighter unions ratified new three-year contracts yesterday that provide for 3 percent annual pay raises and job security, but could result in more expensive medical coverage.

Approval by the Baltimore Fire Officers Union Local 964 and the Baltimore City Firefighters Union Local 734 clears the way for city labor officials to finalize a similar deal with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.

The contracts for the two firefighter unions contain provisions requiring higher payments for health care premiums, but only if the police union accepts the same deal.

The contracts, which narrowly passed after contentious union meetings, also promise no layoffs and no permanent closures of fire stations.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that his administration was offering the unions the best deals the city could afford.

"Everybody understands that our pockets are not deep and that we're trying to do the best we can by the hardworking men and women of this city," O'Malley said.

The 3 percent raises in the two contracts, which take effect July 1, kick in Jan. 1 of each year, beginning next year.

Firefighters and their superiors now pay 15 percent of 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 police union agrees to similar increases.

The city signed two-year contracts last year with the firefighter unions that provided no pay raises. Those contracts, however, allowed for renegotiating wages for the second year. Those negotiations ended this summer in arbitration, which the new contracts resolve.

"It was a difficult process," said Steve Fugate, president of the fire officers union. "But we did the best thing for our members."

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