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Negotiations may stave off city and firefighters union arbitration

The city firefighter union is prepared to go to arbitration with the city administration, but on Thursday its representative also said it is planning to hold private negotiations with the administration Monday as a good faith attempt to stave off bringing in an arbiter.

“The union is preparing for negotiations with Mayor Derek Slaughter, fire Chief Mark Killian and the human resources department,” said Keith Lucas, a city Bureau of Fire platoon chief and president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 736.

“We negotiated in good faith with the city for a year and a half,” Lucas said.

As the contract was close to expiring, the union offered a two-year extension with no pay increases, Lucas said.

That proposal did not reach City Council, he said, adding that it would have lessened the overall budget and helped city taxpayers.

The union tried to reach an agreement with the city for a one-year extension on the contract with wage freezes for the 30 firefighters, Lucas said.

The union has offered a one-year extension with no pay increases to assist Slaughter’s administration during this time when there are questions about the city’s financial short-term, and long-term picture due to COVID-19.

“How can council and taxpayers agree with increasing the budget to fight us in arbitration when we weren’t asking for anything but just to maintain what we have?” Lucas asked.

Currently, there are 30 firefighters unionized. There is one chief and a proposal to hire Mark Calderini as deputy chief.

Firefighters begin in the department at a salary of 65 percent of their full wage over a five-year “step-up” program, Lucas said.

These firefighters also must contribute to their health insurance, he said.

Five firefighters are eligible to retire at any time and are in a “drop” pension program, Killian said.

This week, Joellen Chappelle, city director of human resources, said she could not comment on union-city negotiations.

Council is expected to hire Kapoor, a business firm with expertise in providing cities with economic analytics and preparation for avoiding and managing arbitration with unions.

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