Firefighter union contract signed, but dispute continues
EVERETT — Last month, the city finally signed the union contract with the firefighters union, but it’s not completely finished.
The contract went into arbitration over two years ago. Since the firefighters union operates on a three-year contract, this contract was accepted right before negotiations began this week on the next three-year contract.
The transit union’s contract still remains in arbitration.
Even though the firefighters union contract was signed, the union and city remain in disagreement over health insurance benefits.
Both the city and the firefighters union say they are generally satisfied with the resulting contract after the arbitration.
“We have added a disclaimer stating that basically we’re going into arbitration over the arbitration,” firefighter’s union president Paul Gagnon said two weeks ago. “It’s unprecedented.”
The disagreement is over an interpretation of the language on health insurance.
The contract was not stalled because of disagreements on staffing levels for aid cars and fire engines, Gagnon told this paper previously. That issue had the union file a case against the city before a state employment board. The union lost.
The firefighter’s union understands the health insurance clause to mean that if an employee elects to be covered by the city’s Group Health program, they should have to pay the same amount that members in the Everett Police Officers Association, the rank-and-file officer’s union, pay based on their 2011-2013 collective bargaining agreement. However, the city desires the specific agreement be omitted according to the arbitration agreement in the contract.
The firefighters believe that, since they have a separate union from police, their contract should be separate from the police. However, the city said it does not want to prevent the option of looking at this jointly in the future.
The firefighters union based its negotiation off of comparable fire contracts in other cities, such as those in Renton and Bellevue.
According to Gagnon, most comparable fire departments to the Everett Fire Department do not pay medical.
“Firefighting is a dangerous profession, not only with risks presented by fire, but also medical risks,” Gagnon said. “Eighty-five percent of what we do is emergency medical response, so in turn, you can imagine that we get sick, probably more than most, so this is important to us.”
Gagnon also noted that firefighters have a higher risk of getting cancer compared to those with other professions.
All elected and appointed city personnel in Everett currently contribute 10 percent of their medical premiums. All represented employees, including police and fire, do not contribute to their medical premiums.
Firefighters worked without a contract during the more than two-year period that the contract was in arbitration. During this time, union workers were not receiving automatic raises tied to keeping up with the cost of living.
Now that the contract has been agreed upon, union workers will be receiving some raises from 2013 that amount to slightly less than cost of living during that time, but will receive raises in 2014 that are slightly higher than cost of living.
Typically, when two parties dispute a ruling, like the ruling by the arbiter being disputed by the city and the firefighters union, the two parties can go back to the arbiter to ask for a clarification. However, for this to happen in the case of arbitration, both parties must agree to go back and ask for a clarification. That did not happen in this case.