Firefighter Union Finally Agrees to Talks With City: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday October 12, 2004

Facing the loss of a truck company if they don’t accept a reduction in salary, Berkeley firefighters have agreed to come to the negotiating table. 

City brass and union leadership are scheduled to hold their first formal talks Tuesday—six months after the City Council first sought concessions from the firefighters. 

Eliminating the truck company is expected to save $300,000 in overtime expenses and would cover the savings the City Council had hoped to achieve by compelling the firefighters to return nearly three percent of their scheduled salary increase this year. All other city unions have either negotiated or been forced into a similar one-time salary reduction to help the city close a $10 million deficit. 

If no deal is in sight by Oct. 19, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the city will have to close one of its two ladder truck company during evening hours starting Nov. 8. The city council is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss the matter. 

Union representative Gil Dong indicated that the firefighters were now willing to surrender $300,000 in projected increases in return for a one-year contract extension with a six percent raise in 2006. The proposal would match the salary increase scheduled for police officers that year and would schedule both unions’ contracts to expire in 2007. 

Long-term contracts approved for city workers several years ago are seen as one of the sources of the city’s structural budget deficit, estimated at $7.5 million for the coming year. 

Dong said that firefighters were reluctant to accept a salary reduction after city leaders warned them not to expect any raises in the near future. 

“The feeling has been why give up a raise this year if we’re not going to get one in 2006,” he said. 

Firefighters have stronger leverage with the city than other unions because their contract lacks a clause allowing the city to force them to take a pay cut.  

The union’s willingness to bargain with the city breaks its vow not to enter formal negotiations until every other city union had agreed to a reduction in their scheduled raises. The lone holdout, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers Local 1245 is still contesting the city’s move unilaterally to cut their scheduled raise.