By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON – Public support for emergency responders has grown over the two weeks since the Clinton City Council tabled its collective bargaining resolution with city firefighters. The matter was still unresolved by the end of Tuesday’s regular council meeting as elected officials voted to change the terms of the contract.
Originally, City Administrator Jessica Kinser, Local 609 and legal counsel agreed to a two-year contract proposal that called for a 1 percent wage increase in the next fiscal year, and two 1.5 percent increases in FY16. The union also agreed to increase insurance deductibles and eliminate incentive payments by bumping up lieutenants’ pay by 2 percent in July next year.
Union members felt this was a fair offer, as it provided them some incentives while both avoiding arbitration and remaining within the confines of the fire department’s budget.
When council members delayed approval April 8, a few private citizens stepped forward urging them to move forward.
“I feel this is one of those instances where the city of Clinton needs to pick their battle,” said local business owner Erin George.
“With it not being approved, it goes to arbitration, and we take a chance of it not being a favorable contract,” said Pat Lonergan, another proprietor. He added that if this leads to personnel cuts, it could result in the fire department paying back a grant in addition to jobs lost. “If we can’t afford it, it doesn’t fit in the budget, then we’ve got a budget problem. Those cuts are what concern me.”
However, through a proposed amendment by Councilman Ed O’Neill, most on the council believed a new agreement could work. O’Neill’s amendment spelled out terms to decrease the contract to one year (expiring June 30, 2015), increase wages 1 percent, do away with lieutenant raises and alter some of the insurance designs.
“I don’t feel I’m doing battle with the fire department,” O’Neill said, stating he took personal issue with the public comments. “This is not an easy task to walk a fine line for these men and women and provide for their families.”
The amendment passed 5-2. Paul Gassman and Grant Wilke voted against it.
“The problem is we are now cutting the needs that our city employees have been providing,” Wilke said. “It costs money to provide those services.”
Since the contract changed, it’s back in the hands of the firefighters to decide if the new terms are acceptable. If not, the city and the union could enter arbitration.
Union rep Chris Melvin said after the meeting that he was unsure how the news will be received.
“I don’t know how they can come back with a different contract,” Melvin said. “Basically we have to go back to negotiations, which is what I’m getting out of it.”
If arbitration is to come, O’Neill said that might not mean a negative outcome for Clinton.
“If there’s someplace we can find money other than through a human body,” he said, “taking one less person off the fire department, we’ll do.”