Berkeley is set to usher in an unprecedented period of peace with labor.
Tonight, the City Council is expected to approve a two-year contact extension with city firefighters that would go through 2006. With municipal workers and police officers signing through 2007, the city is likely to have four years before it returns to the bargaining table.
Recent contract renewals, which included a three-month stalemate between municipal workers and the city, have been a trying time for city officials who are happy to put the negotiations behind them.
“If you know how many hours of staff time we have to spend in negotiations that is hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Firefighter salaries came to the table when they requested that the city renegotiate their four-year contract. Though firefighters signed a contract in 2000, they wanted more after city police officers negotiated a more lucrative deal in 2001. The city agreed.
“Everyone is pretty ecstatic that this was accomplished,” said Lt. Rick Guzman, president of Local 1227 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “What the city did [to renegotiate] was pretty much unheard of.”
During the 2000 negotiations, firefighters surrendered 7.75 percent of their wages in order to get an improved pension plan. The following year, however, police officers won the same pension benefits without giving up any salary.
The new contract restores 7.6 percent in wages. In return the firefighters agreed to extend the contract for two years with yearly raises of 5 percent in 2005 and 6 percent in 2006. Firefighters will now reach the top salary range after six years of service instead of 12. Berkeley firefighters on average make approximately $50,000, but can earn more than $100,000 with overtime, according to a city official.
The contract modifications will cost the city $2.6 million, according to a city report. The pay hike will add to the city’s current 2.1 million city deficit, but city officials have said in interviews earlier this month that locking in labor costs will better enable them to plan upcoming budgets.
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