Union: Firefighters 'forced' into new contract - abc27 WHTM

Union: Firefighters 'forced' into new contract

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Heated negotiations between Harrisburg's fire union and the Receiver's Office have been extinguished to strike a deal, but hot spots with some union members emerged Tuesday.

With about a week to go until the city's 2014 budget is due, the last hurdle was finalizing the city's firefighters' contract. Without the contract, the city would face a $1.6 million deficit this year. Last Friday, IAF Local 428 voted 38-15 to accept its new contract.

On Tuesday during a news conference with Mayor Eric Papenfuse and Fire Chief Brian Enterline, union secretary Glenn Sattizahn expressed frustration.

"There wasn't really a whole lot of compromise," he said. "We were for the most part forced into this."

The firefighters presented a proposal last fall which they said would save the city $500,000. The city rejected the deal last month. Sattizahn said it was not until the mayor stepped in to smooth relations between the Receiver's Office and union members did a deal get done.

"He can be very persuasive," Sattizahn said.

Papenfuse said all 63 firefighters paid a heavy price to ensure a balanced budget.

"I want to praise the firefighters for stepping up, for recognizing this is a long-term strategy," he said.

The contract extends the previous proposal by one year to 2017 and involves city firefighters accepting several concessions.

While firefighters make a large chunk of their yearly salary with overtime, the new deal proposes to hire 14 firefighters as soon as possible to cut down on OT. But union members fear recruitment may suffer, because starting salaries were slashed by $20,000.

Union members said a graduate of the fire academy previously made roughly $52,000 - $56,000 a year. The new deal structures new salaries to between $32,000 and $36,000.

Staff firefighters will also see a decrease in their own paycheck. The previous deal would have provided firefighters with a three percent pay raise over four years. The new deal freezes pay for 2014, and offers a one percent pay bump in 2015 and 2016 and a two percent pay raise in 2017.

Enterline said he is navigating new territory by being a member of the union and city management.

"This plan is no panacea by any stretch of the imagination," he said, "but it's a starting point for the rebuilding and recovery of the city."

The deal must be presented to City Council for approval. A first reading is scheduled Tuesday night during a legislative budget meeting that begins at 6 p.m. inside the City Government Center.

Union members said health care costs are increasing under the deal. Firefighters will pay a $40 or $90 co-pay on a biweekly basis, depending on their family status. Between salary reductions and health care costs, union members said the rough figure or "value package" is a $23,000 savings for the city per firefighter each year. However, if you're a city firefighter, those are the "hard concessions" the mayor spoke of.

Sattizahn said losing money does not compare to what the department may have lost in public safety. The new deal reduces shift personnel from 16 firefighters per shift to 14.

"Two less people who help us move hand lines, hook ceilings, do our job," he said. "As we've seen over the summer ... it's possible it could mean a temporary closure of a station."

Last summer, abc27 reported the Paxton Fire Company in Shipoke went unmanned for a period of time due to longer-than-expected equipment repairs. Harrisburg has four fire stations in operation.

Papenfuse said the reductions will not compromise public safety or the firefighter's commitment to protecting the community.

"These are public safety professionals. They put their life on the line every day," Papenfuse said. "They're committed to keeping the city safe."


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