The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

April 18, 2014

Letter to the Editor: Local firefighters' union speaks out on proposed contract

CLINTON — Dear citizens/taxpayers of Clinton:

The members of Local 609 feel that it is our duty to inform the citizens of Clinton that the article titled “‘Fair offer’ differences” in the April 9, 2014 edition of the Clinton Herald was full of inaccurate statements regarding our negotiated contract proposal with the city. These incorrect statements could impact the use of your city funds negatively and unduly influence our elected representatives. So, we would like to address these points, as follows:

1. Local 609, the City Administrator, and City Legal Council agreed to a two-year contract proposal. This was accomplished during a session guided by a state mediator, as required by Iowa code.

2. For this next fiscal year the agreement calls for a one percent (1 percent) general wage increase. According to the City Administrator’s budget numbers, this would be possible within the budget approved by the city council. There are savings in the fire department budget with a recent retirement, and other openings, figuring the difference in pay from a long-term employee to a new hire.

3. For the 2015-16 fiscal year, there is a proposed 1.5 percent general wage increase scheduled on July 1, 2015 and a second 1.5 percent general wage increase scheduled for January 1, 2016. This equates to an overall 3.88 percent wage increase over two years.

4. We agreed to the city’s insurance plan with a dramatic increase to deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. This includes a fixed premium monthly contribution of $30/single plan and $70/family plan by union members beginning January 1, 2015. These fixed rates cost union members more than the three percent (3 percent) monthly contribution that was originally asked for by the city.

5. Starting July 1, 2015 the lieutenants’ rank pay-step will increase by 2 percent. This increase was to compensate for added duties because of the elimination of the captain’s rank several years ago.

6. The proposal also includes eliminating several contractual incentive payments by incorporating these into the general wage. This has no additional costs to the budget.

In addition to these corrections there are some other vital points to consider if the council decides to reject this proposal and go the state-mandated arbitration:

• A significant additional cost in attorney fees and arbitrator costs will be added to the current expenses of legal fees and mediator costs.

• Current standard arbitrator rulings in Iowa have been around 3 percent. This minimally would equal approximately $40,000 higher cost to the city than the current 1 percent proposed increase. Since this would be above the current budget, the council has stated that this would result in cutting personnel. This cut would equal one employee from the fire department.

• A loss of an employee to the fire department will violate FEMA regulations for staffing according to the SAFER grant and result in penalties. Current the penalty will be approximately $75,000. (Voluntary reduction of budgets is not considered an economic hardship)

• Our union negotiated the previous contract with no wage increase, to assist the city during budget difficulties and to maintain personnel to provide safe service to the citizens, we also entered an additional agreement with the city. If personnel are cut and minimum manning cannot be maintained the city will issue a repayment of 1.5 percent to union personnel. This currently equates to a cost of approximately $30,000.

• These additional costs to the city will result in several more reductions in our staffing. This will result in severe safety deficiencies in our operations according to national standards. This will also affect the level of service we can offer to the citizens.

It has always been our endeavor to work with the city in navigating through these difficult times. We have negotiated no wage increases previously to assist the city. In the past, the city has appreciated these efforts, in good faith, which has also allowed us to guarantee our minimum staffing for servicing the citizens of Clinton. We continue to be concerned about our citizens and any negative impacts that might affect them. We ask the council to consider these above items for the sake of the citizens.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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