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Tampa firefighters and city reopening stalled contract talks

TAMPA — The city's firefighters union wants to accept a no-raise contract offer made by city officials several months ago.

Union officials asked to meet today with city negotiators to discuss the compromise.

The union and Mayor Pam Iorio have been at an impasse in negotiations since July. The matter went to a special magistrate in October, and a nonbinding recommendation from the magistrate is due in January. If the two sides still can't agree, the contract will go to the Tampa City Council for a vote.

But after watching the police union lose its contract dispute by a 5-1 vote of the City Council earlier this month, the firefighters don't want to go that route, said Jace Kohan, secretary/treasurer of the union that represents about 630 firefighters.

The police and fire unions agreed to forego cost-of-living raises this year after Iorio said she wanted to freeze the wages of all city employees in 2010 because of budget constraints. But the police officers and firefighters still wanted annual step raises given as recruits take on more responsibilities in their first years on the job.

Iorio has pledged to reconsider the step increases during contract negotiations next year.

"We're concerned with the steps coming back next year. We really are," Kohan said.

Still, the union wants to revisit a contract offer made by the city several months ago to suspend step increases in 2010, but grant the firefighters' request for increased tuition reimbursements and an exemption from random drug tests.

"We'll see if they're still open to that," Kohan said.

Sarah Lang, employee relations manager for the city, would not comment Wednesday.

In August 2008, firefighters took their contract to the City Council when they failed to reach agreement with Iorio about pay raises. The City Council sided unanimously with the firefighters, giving them larger raises than Iorio wanted.

This year, though, things are different.

The city had to use $31 million of reserve funds to help close a $51 million hole in the current budget. And revenue projections for next year remain uncertain, while the cost of benefits such as insurance continue to increase.

Council members have said that makes it difficult to side with the union this time. The firefighters' contract expired on Oct. 1.

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

Tampa firefighters and city reopening stalled contract talks 12/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 11:48pm]
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