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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 7 years ago

Town, firefighters continue with contract negotiations

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

An impasse hearing is set for Aug. 17.

But firefighter/paramedic Brandon Desch, who was elected district vice president for the Longboat Key International Association of Firefighters Union earlier this month, told The Longboat Observer after a July 27 meeting that Longboat Key Fire Rescue employees hope to avoid going to impasse and will consider a counterproposal offered by the town for a three-year contract, even if it means making major concessions.

At Tuesday’s meeting, attorney James “Jim” Brantley, of Donnelly & Gross, P.A., presented a contract from the Longboat Key union district in which firefighters would agree to forgo pay increases during the first year of the contract, unless other town employees receive raises, but would receive a cost-of-living allowance and step increase in years two and three of the contract. The proposal suggested that firefighters would accept reduced 401(k) contributions from the town in exchange for the pension fund remaining unchanged.

“It would be two back-to-back years with no step increase,” Brantley said. “That, coupled with the phase-out of the 401(k) match, puts more money back on the table for the town.”

The contract also suggested that the town should calculate compensatory time for firefighter/paramedics using the same formula that it does for deputy chiefs, in which sick time does not count toward compensatory time.

Town labor attorney Reynolds Allen, of Allen, Norton & Blue, told the firefighters that the town was unlikely to agree to wage guarantees. However, he presented a counterproposal in which the firefighter pension would remain unchanged if firefighter-paramedics accepted a three-year contract in which they would agree to pay increases only if other town employees would receive them. Should the parties reach an agreement, he said, the town would agree that it would not reduce wages.

Firefighters also have the option of accepting a two-year contract, but the town would retain the option of re-opening the pension issue. As part of the town’s counterproposal, firefighters would also agree to forego the payouts of 100% for unused vacation time and 50% for unused sick time that they receive upon retirement.

Desch said that the town’s counterproposal is worth considering if it can help the parties avoid an impasse. He hopes both parties can return to negotiations before the scheduled hearing.

“We’re hoping to avoid an impasse,” he said. “We understand that the economy is not as good as it should be.”

If an impasse hearing occurs, a special magistrate will present its findings after reviewing proposals by both sides and make a decision that is not legally binding. If the town and firefighters cannot reach an agreement based on the magistrate’s findings, the Longboat Key Town Commission could be called upon to make a decision.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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