By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre firefighters union and the city Tuesday night agreed that the city will pay half a 45 percent increase in health insurance premiums for 15 local firefighters.
They also agreed on the amount of a pay raise for firefighters, but disagreed on whether it should be a one-year, 3 percent raise retroactive to July 1, or a 6 percent, half-year raise beginning on Jan. 1.
The sides agreed to meet again Thursday night for what they expect to be a brief meeting that could complete months of negotiations.
Mike Anderson, chair of the union's negotiation committee, said he will take the city's latest proposal to the rest of the union members today to get their input.
Jack Brandon, chair of the Labor Relations Committee of the Havre City Council, said if the sides can agree at the Thursday meeting, the City Council can approve the contract Monday.
At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, the city offered to pay half the 45 percent health insurance increase that went into effect in August, and gave the union a choice between a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise retroactive to July 1 and a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise that would take effect on Dec. 1. The union had previously requested a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise retroactive to July 1 and proposed that the city pay for the entire health insurance increase this year.
The city has been paying the entire health insurance premium increase since August because of language in last year's contract.
The city also initially agreed to the union's proposal to increase pay an extra $20 a month for EMTs trained at the basic and intermediate levels, and $200 for paramedics, although later in the evening it withdrew the offer and proposed instead to pay a 3 percent increase a month for basic and intermediate levels, and to pay $200 for paramedics. EMTs now get $80 a month for basic training and $130 for intermediate. The department has no paramedics and the last contract did not specify extra pay for them.
Three representatives of Local 601 of the International Association of Firefighters left the room twice to discuss the city's proposals. Their final counterproposal asked for a 6 percent raise for the six months beginning Jan. 1, and proposed that the city continue to pay the entire health insurance increase until Jan. 1. After that the firefighters would begin to pay half the increase.
"So in our opinion we're very, very close, and we should be able to settle this this evening," Anderson told the negotiating committee.
But after leaving the room to discuss the union's counterproposal, the city committee stuck to its initial offer of a 3 percent raise for a full year. Brandon said the 6 percent raise, even though it would cost the same amount as a 3 percent raise for the full year, would end up costing the city more because firefighters would be at a higher rate of pay as they began negotiating a new contract next year.
"Six percent is no different than 3 percent for the whole year, but it will be next year," he said.
The committee also held firm to its proposal to begin paying half the firefighters' health insurance premium increase beginning on Dec. 1.
Brandon said waiting until Jan. 1 instead of Dec. 1 would cost the city an extra $1,425 it does not have. That would mean the city would have shelled out more than $6,000 over four months to pay for the firefighters' health insurance premium increase, he said.