A special magistrate issued his rulings Nov. 17 on stalled contract negotiations between the firefighters and the town of Longboat Key.
Much of the rulings Labor Arbitrator Special Magistrate Robert McHenry suggested, according to Brandon Desch, Longboat Key district vice president for the Longboat Key District of International Association of Firefighters, are favorable to the firefighters.
McHenry recommended no changes be made to the total payout a firefighter receives upon retirement. The town proposed excluding sick and leave time from the final pension payout to save money.
And McHenry recommended denial of proposals by the town that would give town officials the right to modify all aspects of the contract pending dire financial circumstances.
McHenry also stated he did not recommend reducing the number of personal hours and vacation time that can be used at any given time.
McHenry also ruled in favor of the firefighters regarding overtime. The town argues that only hours worked should be counted as overtime in a new contract. Currently, leave and sick time hours are counted as part of overtime compensation, and McHenry believes it should stay that way.
The town also received some favorable rulings, including a decision by the magistrate not to offer raises or cost-of-living adjustments in the first year of any contract. McHenry also said raises should only be offered in year two of a contract only if other employees receive raises.
“We are very happy with the magistrate’s ruling,” Desch said. “It was favorable to us and we are continuing to review it.”
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, however, told the Town Commission at its regular workshop Nov. 18 that he will not comment on the ruling and urged the commissioners to do the same.
The magistrate’s ruling is not legally binding.
St. Denis must now review the ruling and meet with the firefighters to consider a revised contract.
If the town manager and the firefighters cannot agree on a contract, though, the commission will make contract decisions going forward.
The town has consistently said it will not spend any money in a new contract and does not want to give raises to the firefighters when it has not committed to giving other employees raises.
The firefighters continue to argue the town has more than enough money ($4.7 million in reserves) to pay them their wage and cost-of-living increases, which they believe were offered to them as part of their contracts when they were hired.
The fire department’s current contract expired May 31, which means the department continues to operate on the status quo on a month-to-month basis until a new contract is reached.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].