OLDSMAR — A yearlong dispute ended at Tuesday night's City Council meeting during a bathroom break.
City Manager Bruce Haddock and Jason Schwabe, who represents Palm Harbor and Oldsmar firefighters at the International Association of Firefighters Local 2980, ended the impasse over pension negotiations for Oldsmar's 13 rank-and-file firefighters.
The city initially wanted to freeze its pension plan for current firefighters and switch them over to the Florida Retirement System. They would keep what they have earned so far, but would have to work several more years than planned before retiring in order to get a pension from the state.
Under the new agreement, all new firefighters must be enrolled in the state's pension plan, but current employees will stick with the city's plan.
The conflict started in June 2013, when the city and the union started negotiations on pension and other contract issues. By December, the city declared an impasse. In May, a special magistrate's report sided with the union. Haddock opposed it, bringing the issue before the council.
Many taxpayers, firefighters and their families spoke of the physical toll working more years would take on the firefighters. Schwabe also highlighted the emotional impact.
"You're there with people during their personal tragedies," he said. "I don't necessarily want 10 more years of performing CPR on babies, of telling loved ones we can't do anything for them. It's not fair to do that to us."
The meeting's tone shifted when, after several hours of statements from attorneys, Haddock and input from the public, Mayor Doug Bevis called for a bathroom break. Afterward, the council was to vote on how to solve the impasse, but Haddock and Schwabe eliminated the need for that when they quietly negotiated a quick agreement.
Haddock said he didn't have a compromise in mind going into the hearing, but was happy to have worked one out before the vote. The city agreed to leave firefighters in their current plans in exchange for the union allowing the city to implement two other cost-saving measures they were previously against.
"I thought we had a reasonable outcome," Haddock said.
All parties greeted the agreement with applause, relieved to sidestep what would have likely been a difficult council vote. Vice Mayor Linda Norris addressed the union and reminded them that although the council members must keep taxpayer interests in mind, they don't want to do so in a way that damages firefighters' morale.
"We do love you and we do honor you and we do want you to be comfortable here," she said.
Contact Julie Kliegman at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @ jmkliegman.