Keith Tanner wants to avoid what seemed inevitable in November: an impasse in contract discussions between the town and the Longboat Key Fire Rescue union.
“An impasse is a waste of more money and will just make the lawyers rich,” Tanner said.
So, in 2010, Tanner, a firefighter/paramedic who has served as district vice president for the Longboat Key District of International Association of Firefighters since 2008, will head back to the bargaining table to work out a new three-year contract. He says the union’s goal is for Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department salaries to stay competitive with those offered by other departments in the area, especially the Sarasota County Fire Department.
“If we don’t stay competitive with other fire departments, we stand a chance of not attracting recruits,” Tanner said. “It will definitely affect the level of service that the residents have come to expect.”
Negotiations between the two parties have been ongoing since June, when the town offered firefighters a three-year contract denying firefighters cost-of-living and step increases for at least the first year of the contract. The firefighters have claimed that wage and cost-of-living increases were part of their contracts when they were hired.
“After a financial analysis was done on the town, we feel there is money to proceed forward with step increases and cost-of-living increases after year one,” Tanner said. “It all boils down to being competitive with other departments in the area. What we’re asking for is what other departments in the area have provided.”
In November, the firefighters presented a revised schedule that would give them 48 hours on duty followed by 96 hours off, compared to the present 24 hours on, 48 hours off. The town’s labor attorney, Reynolds Allen, of Allen, Norton & Blue, was receptive to the idea, until the firefighters presented an addendum asking for 48 more hours of vacation time, a clothing-allowance increase, specialty-pay increase, a health-trust savings plan, an amended pension plan and wage and cost-of-living increases for years two and three of the contract.
Tanner says that although many parts of the addendum are negotiable, the step increases and cost-of-living increases are not.
One thing that Tanner hopes won’t be on the bargaining table when negotiations continue: the revised work schedule. Tanner says that the decision to institute the new schedule should be left to Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Rich Dickerson and should not be part of the labor contract. The department voted 16-14 to try out the new schedule, which firefighters say has been proven to boost morale and reduce sick time.
“We’ve already proven to the town that it will not cost additional money,” Tanner said. “It’s a win-win for both sides.”
Tanner plans to seek re-election as the union representative in 2010, after two years in the position, because he has always been a strong supporter of unions and their role in the workplace. Originally from the Detroit area, he owned a painting business before moving to Florida and becoming a firefighter/paramedic with the Broward County Fire Department, where he also was involved with union negotiations. Tanner worked for the Broward department for eight years before he was hired by Longboat Key Fire Rescue 10 years ago.
“I enjoy being part of the negotiations and making sure that we’re being treated fairly,” Tanner said. “That’s the purpose of the union, especially in tough economic times: to have a fair, safe and equitable place to work.”
Hometown: Detroit area
Hobbies: Boating, golf and motorcycling
Interesting fact: Tanner’s son, Brandon, 28, is training to become a firefighter/paramedic.
Contact Robin Hartill at email@example.com.
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