TAMPA — The firefighters union and city officials agreed Thursday on a new contract after nine months of negotiations.
The agreement includes no raises this year for firefighters. But it does increase money available for tuition reimbursement and an exemption from random drug testing, two provisions the union had sought.
"It's been a pleasure," Sarah Lang, employee relations manager for the city, said at the end of the negotiating session as she extended her hand to union president M.G. Costello.
"No, it has not been a pleasure," Costello said, with a teasing smile.
"It's a pleasure to come to agreement," Lang added.
Mayor Pam Iorio in July declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the three unions that represent the general employees, police officers and firefighters. The biggest sticking point: pay freezes for all city employees. Iorio's fiscal year 2010 budget included no money for raises, even though the contracts were still in negotiations.
The unions agreed to forgo cost-of-living raises in 2010 because of city budget constraints. But the general employees union still wanted merit raises. The police and firefighter unions wanted to keep annual step raises, which are given as recruits take on more responsibilities in their early years on the job.
Under the threat of layoffs, the general employees settled their contract in November without the merit raises. The police union took its contract to the City Council for resolution, but the council sided with Iorio.
That prompted the firefighters to try to settle.
"The writing was on the wall," said William Mann, vice president of the union that represents about 630 firefighters.
The contract calls for the step increases to resume next year unless eliminated in bargaining.
The old contract, which included step increases, expired Oct. 1, so some firefighters received the pay boosts this fiscal year. The new contract requires them to pay the money back at a rate of $25 a week.
The union will likely hold a vote by the end of the year.
If it passes, it will go to the City Council for approval.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.