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Cape Coral seeks bigger pay cuts

After firefighter union rejects contract, city ups the ante

Aug. 30, 2011


Cape Coral is asking for even bigger pay cuts from its firefighters less than a month after the union rejected a tentative contract agreement.

Instead of a 3 percent wage cut and 2 percent increase in pension contributions — as the previous agreement called for — the new proposal is a flat 8 percent pay cut.

The proposal brings the amount of concessions sought by the city from firefighters to $2.3 million, up from $1.9 million.

Average salary for rank and file firefighters in 2010 was about $59,000.

An 8 percent pay cut would reduce pay to about $54,000 while a 3 percent pay cut would reduce pay to about $57,000.

Union president Mark Muerth said he expected the city to push back even harder than before.

“We believe it’s punitive,” Muerth said.

He said the city dug itself into a hole by lowering the tax rate and basing its budget on the assumption the fire and police unions would accept their tentative agreements.

The city had been expecting $2.7 million in savings from both unions but projected a shortfall of $4 million when the agreements failed.

“That’s a self-inflicted wound,” Muerth said.

“They have basically put themselves in a difficult position,” he said.

The firefighter union rejected the earlier contract by a vote of 177-0 while the police union turned it down by a margin of 185-1.

In addition to pointing out the lower tax rate, city labor attorney John Hament said the city is in worse fiscal shape because negotiations have dragged on for more than a year with no deal in sight.

“You’ve created months of delay,” Hament said.

“The city has not been able to yield savings.”

And he said the council may seek more concessions.

“There is serious pressure there to seek a larger pay (cut),” he said.

Before the city offered its terms, the union proposed a pay increase equal to one being considered for City Manager Gary King.

The idea, floated by Councilman Bill Deile, is to add $20,000 to King’s salary, in lieu of incentive pay, before he receives a pay cut along with other non-union employees.

King’s cut would be about 7 percent, which means his overall salary would be hiked about 8 percent when the $20,000 is included.

Firefighters asked for the same 8 percent increase, but Hament rejected the idea.
“We find it very counterproductive,” he said. “It’s going in exactly the opposite direction.”

The police and firefighter unions will resume negotiations this week.

Although the city said in its last bargaining session with police it might seek larger cuts from them as well, Hament said Tuesday he could not say whether they will be offered the same 8 percent pay cut Thursday.

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