Proposed city fire contract to be reviewed by council

The city fire department and city administration have agreed to a proposed five-year contract with changes in health care contributions starting in 2015.

The biggest change will eliminate spousal and childrens’ insurance coverage for all retirees, according to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.

It also would require firefighters hired starting in 2015 who pay for spousal or family insurance coverage to also pay a portion of their health care. The cost would be 20 percent of their health care premium paid out of their own pocket when they enroll in a plan covering their spouses and families for their first year of employment followed by successive reductions of 5 percent over the life of the contract until they don’t pay any cost in the fifth year, Campana said.

The city would continue to provide full coverage for firefighters who have single medical insurance policies.

The proposed contract also would raise firefighters’ salaries starting in 2016 by 2.5 percent; 2.5 percent in 2017; and 3 percent in 2018 and 2019.

Firefighters’ union Local 736 agreed to a wage freeze in 2015 but will receive a 3.5 percent increase next year under terms of the previous contract.

A starting wage for a firefighter is $36,800, according to Michelle Casale, city human resources director.

Later, when asked how it reduces city legacy expenses, when the reduction is 5 percent each year, Campana said the savings will be noticed by removing the spousal and children insurance coverage for retirees.

“We save on the costs initially up front with the percentage of reduction, but most of all for not paying the family insurances,” Campana said.

Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach said he was pleased the union representatives initiated the negotiations.

“Most of the health insurance changes were for the new employees and that will be beneficial when we have new hires,” he said.

“I’m pleased they brought it to the table,” Heinbach said.

Of the department’s firefighters, 27 are covered under the family plans, which cost the city for each family $18,600 annually, Casale said.

Three of the firefighters are enrolled in the single health care plan, which costs $8,400 for single, and three have opted out of insurance, Casale said.

“Starting in 2015, we’re only going to be paying for insurance coverage for the employees, not the retired employees’ families.” Campana said.

The former health care concession for retirees’ spouses and families was awarded to firefighters through arbitration, and the union received the award in 2009, Campana said.

Negotiations for the proposed contract were led for the union by Platoon Chief Vincent Rundio, union president and Neal Hensler, union secretary. The city was represented by Campana and Casale.

“Any time the union and administration go to arbitration both parties risk whatever the arbitrator rules,” Heinbach said. “The contract expires Dec. 31, 2014,” Heinbach said.

The department has a budgeted complement of 33 firefighters.

During a typical day shift there are three chiefs, an inspector and six firefighters on duty. The department works 10 hour days and 14-hour nights, with seven firefighters on duty during nights and weekends.

The proposed contract isn’t approved until it is reviewed and voted on by city Finance Committee and City Council next week.