TAMPA — A state commission ruled this week that the city of Tampa engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to pay firefighters merit raises after their contract expired in October.
The Public Employees Relations Commission ordered the city to retroactively pay the raises, with interest, to eligible firefighters.
Tom Gonzalez, a lawyer who represents the city, said Tampa was delaying the raises only until negotiations were complete on a new contract that might have created a different pay structure.
"The city never said they weren't going to pay it," Gonzalez said.
Paying raises without a finished contract might mean some firefighters would have to return some of their money if they agreed to a lower pay scale.
City officials and firefighters are at a standstill over salary negotiations, so the existing contract remains in effect.
Larry Parker, president of the firefighters union, said he believes the city was holding back raises to strong-arm the union into a contract it doesn't like.
"It proves that we were right all along that the city was bargaining in bad faith," Parker said of the commission's decision.
The total amount owed the firefighters was not available Thursday, but Parker said about 100 union members didn't receive merit raises they were due.
The commission's order can be appealed in district court, but City Attorney David Smith said he didn't know yet if he would go that route.
Meanwhile, firefighters want a 5 percent across-the-board pay increase and merit raises averaging 5 percent annually. The city is offering a 2.3 percent cost-of-living increase and merit increases averaging 3.5 percent.
After negotiations reached an impasse in December, the matter was assigned to a special magistrate. A nonbinding recommendation from the magistrate is due in about three weeks.
If the two parties still cannot agree, the City Council will consider the contract.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.