The first new two-year collective bargaining agreement with the Henderson Fire Department in six years is a give and take with the city.
Fred Horvath, assistant city manager overseeing human resource issues, said the city is pleased with the results.
“The general feeling is it was a very balanced approach by the firefighters recognizing where we’re at in this recovery,” said Horvath, adding this is the first of six ongoing union negotiations at the city.
The City Council is scheduled to potentially approve the contract at Tuesday’s meeting. The contract covers 205 Henderson firefighters and paramedics. The remaining 20 department management and support staff are nonunion.
The city and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1883 last negotiated a new contract in 2008, extending that contract with concessions in 2010 and 2012. Horvath said the city wanted some “structural changes” to help both sides get through the continued economic downturn.
Dan Pentkowski, president of the Henderson Professional Fire Fighters union, said the group’s concessions have allowed the department to operate through the economic downturn without laying off firefighters or closing firehouses.
“This isn’t new to us, doing good work (with Henderson),” Pentkowski said. “This is a very fair contract on both sides … we were able to reach consensus on a good business contract based on our current economic reality.”
The city has a $5 million operating budget shortfall for the year ending June 30, and pulled another $4.6 million from the city’s vehicle purchasing and maintenance fund to balance the fiscal year 2015 budget.
One of the biggest changes for the department is a lower pay rate for new firefighters, with more steps added before they can top out pay in their career. A newly hired firefighter will start at $16.71, a 10 percent decrease from the current starting pay, with 12 steps on the pay scale instead of nine. A firefighter/paramedic will start at $18.94 per hour, also a 10 percent decrease.
The 12th step will be added to the end of the pay scale starting July 1, 2015, impacting 115 current employees with a salary, overtime and benefits expense of $1.01 million. About 60 percent of union members will benefit immediately next July, Pentkowski said.
The new steps will save about $1.9 million for the 15 recruits anticipated for February over the 12 years they progress through the wage schedule.
Union firefighters will still see a net compensation increase of 1.11 percent, or $335,451, in fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, 2015. Fiscal year 2016 will bring a 2.23 percent increase, or $684,637. The increases are tied to non-salary benefits, and do not include any scheduled base wage increases. The department’s current salary, retirement and overtime expense is $30.3 million.
The firefighters agreed to a one-time lump-sum payment equal to 2 percent of total pay at a cost of $450,000. However, the pay will not be associated with overtime or the Public Employees’ Retirement System expense. The union has not received cost-of-living increases since 2009.
The parties agreed to changes in sick leave that will decrease the city’s long-term obligation at retirement or termination ($563,353 savings through 2016), and reduced vacation hours by 12 ($212,690 savings).
Pentkowski said department concessions will grow with the agreement to split any increased PERS expense expected to be announced by the state in November. The move will save the city $72,175 annually on a 2 percent increase to the state’s retirement plan.
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3882. Follow him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind