By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The city and the union representing 15 Havre firefighters ended more than two hours of bargaining Tuesday night without reaching agreement on any of four remaining contract items.
"We're at where we were before, so, you know, the 2 percent raise ... although we appreciate the offer, we're still holding out for 4," Mike Anderson, chair of the negotiation committee of Local 601 of the International Association of Firefighters, told the Havre City Council's Labor Relations Committee after leaving the room for half an hour to discuss the city's counterproposals.
The union's proposal for a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise also includes an increase in skill pay for emergency medical technicians. Other unresolved items are the city's contribution to the firefighters' health insurance premiums; a proposal that would add the city's health insurance contribution to the employees' base wage, boosting their eventual retirement pay; and a union request to clarify a contract article governing pay rates for firefighters who temporarily assume the responsibilities of a higher rank to fill in for an absent employee.
The firefighters have also requested a new type of boots to replace the two different pairs now worn to fight wildland fires and fires in buildings.
On Tuesday night the city brought to the table a proposal to pay for half of this year's 45 percent health insurance premium increase. That is the same the city is contributing to nonunion employees and has offered to the police and public works employees unions in an effort to give all employees the same contribution from the city.
"Last year was a very unhappy year for a lot of people because of disparities in insurance, and we're trying to get everyone on the same level," Labor Relations Committee member Dana West told the union representatives.
Union members questioned whether that is necessary.
"I personally don't believe they need to be equal," Anderson said. "That is what negotiations are for."
Since the new insurance rates went into effect in August, the city has been paying the entire increase for the firefighters as specified in their last contract. If the firefighters accept the proposal the city made Tuesday night, a single firefighter would pay about $47 more per month. A firefighter with a spouse or child on the plan would pay about $86 more, and one with a family on the plan would pay $116 more.
The city rejected the union's original proposal to increase pay by $20 a month for EMTs trained at the basic and intermediate levels, and $200 for paramedics. EMTs now get $80 more a month for basic training and $130 for intermediate. The department has no paramedics and the contract does not specify extra pay for them.
Brandon said the city agreed to an increase of $25 for the basic level and $50 for the intermediate level last year, so it would not agree to the change this year.
The union representatives said they will stick to their original proposal.
The city's counterproposals also tried to clarify ambiguous contract language governing pay given to employees who carry out the duties of a higher-ranking employee who is absent. The contract now says the employee must act in the higher position for at least 30 calendar days before receiving higher pay. The city didn't propose to change the time frame. The union wants the higher pay to begin as soon as the employee takes on the higher rank.
"You work it, you get paid," Anderson told Brandon when he was pressed for a suggestion on how to improve the contract.
When the union members left the room to meet, committee member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said he supports higher pay beginning on the first day.
Brandon said that could cost the city as much as $3,000 this year. "That's a considerable sum," he said, adding that it could reduce the amount of money the city has to offer for wages or insurance to the firefighters.
The city told the union to come back with a counterproposal on the item next week.
The groups also did not reach agreement on the union's proposal to put the city's health insurance contribution into the employees' base salary to boost their eventual retirement pay. Committee members said that would give employees with families more retirement pay than singles, and might be illegal.
The next meeting between the groups will be next Wednesday at 7 p.m.