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Firefighters and Cape battle over pay rate

Apr. 7, 2011


Despite agreeing to a 3 percent pay cut for most city employees, Cape Coral officials are holding firm on a proposal to cut firefighter pay 6 percent.

Police have been offered a 4 percent cut.

The issue for the city is that the fire union filed a grievance in October requesting a 3 percent pay raise, said city labor attorney John Hament.

“If we lost the grievance in arbitration, that’s a 3 percent increase (in pay),” Hament said during contract negotiations this week. “So, to me, there’s like this aura of uncertainty.”

The union argues its 170 rank-and-file members were due the pay hike, which the city never issued.

“Over a year ago, these guys were eligible for a wage increase and the city violated the agreement, and we’re holding their feet to the fire,” union President Mark Muerth said.

City Manager Gary King denied the union’s grievance in November, stating it had no merit. City spokeswoman Connie Barron said the city would not elaborate until the issue is resolved.

The next step in the process is an arbitration hearing, which could take months to be scheduled.

“I don’t anticipate before the arbitration hearing we’ll have agreed to anything in the negotiation,” Muerth said.

The city’s current proposal would save an estimated $1.2 million a year, compared to about $700,000 a year for the union’s proposal.

For the other bargaining unit representing firefighters — which includes 11 battalion chiefs — the union is pressing for a 14 percent pay increase for Battalion Chief John Spicuzza and less than 1 percent raises for the rest.

Spicuzza makes $12,000 less than the next lowest paid batallion chief.

Muerth said the city would save about $63,000 a year on battalion chiefs under its current proposal.

Muerth said a wage and benefit study would show the chiefs make less than those at other departments.

“Do the analysis, show us these guys are overpaid,” Muerth said. “We don’t believe they are.”

Hament said under the current budget circumstances, the union shouldn’t be looking to bring salaries in line with other departments.

“They want to be treated different from everyone else in the city,” he said. “This is not the time to be making equity adjustments.”

Muerth said he thinks the city has spent about as much negotiating the salaries as it would save by cutting them.

“It’s almost like they want to cut their nose off to spite their face,” he said.

The law firm representing the city in contract negotiations — Kunkel, Miller & Hament — has billed the city about $89,000 — a rate of $195 an hour — through Feb. 16.
In addition to proposed pay cuts, the city is asking firefighters to pay 2 percent more of their salaries to their pensions. The union has agreed.

The same pension increase is in the works for the police union while city employees ratified the increase March 31 under their new contract, which is expected to save the city about $2.1 million a year

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