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Tampa at impasse in pay raise dispute with three unions

TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio is standing firm on her pledge to include no raises in union contracts.

After three months of negotiations, Iorio said Tuesday that the city had reached an impasse with the police, fire and general employees unions.

"We have a tremendous deficit in revenues and this will be the third year in a row that we have to make cutbacks in our workforce in order to balance the budget. The city simply cannot afford to provide pay raises to any of our employees this upcoming fiscal year," Iorio said.

Spokesmen for the police and firefighter unions said they are willing to give up cost-of-living raises.

"We realize times are hard," said Jace Kohan, secretary-treasurer for the firefighters union.

But both unions say they want merit raises for those who qualify for them.

In the fire department, that would be about half of the 578 union employees.

The raises help new firefighters pay for required paramedic training, Kohan said. He also pointed out that pension contributions by police and firefighters will increase 2.68 percent.

"They are taking home less money," he said.

Rick Cochran, vice president of the police union, said negotiators went to the table understanding the current harsh economic realities but they still didn't want to capitulate on the merit raises.

"That's something that's been in place for 30 years," he said, adding that they help the city recruit top quality officers.

A patrol officer's starting salary is $46,384. Annual merit increases end after 12 years when the pay hits $75,358.

Discussions with the unions will continue, but Iorio wants to begin the impasse process, which typically involves going to a special magistrate who renders a non-binding decision.

If the two sides don't accept that decision, the issue goes to the City Council.

But Iorio wants to bypass the magistrate and send the issue straight to the council. That would avoid further delays and expense to taxpayers, Iorio said.

The police officers have rejected that proposal and want a hearing, Cochran said. Firefighters are still considering their options, Kohan said. Martha Stevens, president of the general employees union, did not return calls for comment.

Salaries and benefits eat up most of the city's general fund.

Earlier this year, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1464, which represents 2,000 non-management general employees, received combined cost-of-living and merit raises of up to 5.5 percent.

Firefighters also received annual cost-of-living and merit increases of about 6 percent.

The police union, which has more than 900 members, last negotiated its contract three years ago, winning combined cost-of-living and merit raises of nearly 9 percent a year.

When discussions with the unions began in April, Iorio told them she would offer no raises in the coming year.

The city is facing a $52 million shortfall in its 2010 budget, and eliminating union pay increases would save $12 million, she said.

"The mayor's position is very sound," said council member John Dingfelder. "My gut feeling is that everybody needs to suck it up and not have raises across the entire city."

In prior years, the council "bent over backwards for the employees," he said. Members rejected Iorio's proposal to lay off people and turn over city services to private companies, and sided with firefighters in a contract battle last year.

"This year is a different story," he said. "Everybody is lucky to have their jobs."

Council member Charlie Miranda said not only does he support Iorio's salary freeze, but says everyone should take a 5 percent pay cut.

"Let the public get the service," he said. "Save the jobs of the people who are going to get laid off."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa at impasse in pay raise dispute with three unions 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 11:54pm]
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