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Cape Coral firefighters reject cuts

Union vote unanimous against contract that trims pay

Aug. 5, 2011


On the heels of a rejection by Cape Coral’s police union last week, the city’s firefighters sent a similar message Friday with a unanimous vote to dismiss a tentative contract agreement that would have cut their pay.

The final tally was 177-0, with both bargaining units — battalion chiefs and rank and file members — casting votes from Tuesday to Friday.

The police union voted to reject a similar contract, which also called for a 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent increase in pension contributions, last week by a vote of 185-1. Union president Kurt Grau cited City Manager Gary King’s $17,750 bonus, recently approved by the City Council, as a reason for the contract rejection.

“Enough is enough,” said firefighter union president Mark Muerth. “And I think the group did send the city manager and the council a message — you’re either going to work with us or against us; it’s your call.”

City spokeswoman Connie Barron said the city will reach out to union leadership to see what went wrong.

“You walk away from the table thinking that you have a tentative agreement and then, to have it rejected by 100 percent of the union, it’s very disappointing,” Barron said.
City labor attorney John Hament said it was “frustrating, if not disturbing” for the parties to spend more than a year on the matter and see this result.

Muerth said the final straw for him came when council members indicated they wanted deeper cuts soon after the tentative agreement was reached in June.

“No sooner did we wrap this thing up than, within the following week, we had council members calling for more cuts,” he said. “I no longer felt comfortable voting yes.”
King’s bonus was also an issue, he said.

City officials have said they were obligated to follow King’s contract, which includes pay tied to goals, but Muerth said the city hasn’t given firefighters a contractually obligated raise in over a year.

“For them to get up there and say, ‘We don’t violate contracts,’ is absurd,” he said. “Don’t grandstand when you’ve done it multiple times to our contract.”

In a blog entry posted Thursday, King responded by contending the money wasn’t a bonus. He said he proposed a lower salary to begin with then suggested tying performance incentives to another portion of it.

He also pointed out his compensation, $150,250 — which includes the extra money — is about 9 percent less than the previous city manager’s salary of $164,715.

Muerth also said some members found their pay would be cut about 19 percent by the proposed contract when factors such as reduced holiday pay and leave time were included.

Hament countered the extra cuts would have brought firefighters to the level where police and general employees are.

“We caught them up,” he said. “That’s why they (tentatively) agreed to it.”

Both sides must resume bargaining as soon as possible. Two bargaining sessions with police have been scheduled beginning later this month, Hament said.

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