Plant City Florida (Eastern Hillsborough County)

Another Florida City is at odds over pay for Firefighters during contract negotiations.
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Firefighters, City At Odds Over Pay
KARLAYNE R. PARKER kparker@tampatrib.com
Published: Aug 31, 2002

AREA DEPARTMENTS OFFER HIGHER WAGES

PLANT CITY - Plant City firefighters want a 8.1 percent pay raise for the 2002-03 union contract, but city officials aren't likely to approve it.

The two sides met Thursday, but were on opposite sides of the pay issue.

``All we are asking for is a living wage,'' said David H. Kinsey, a contract consultant hired by the International Association of Firefighters Local 2103, which represents 30 firefighters at Plant City Fire Rescue. ``We are fairly entrenched in this position.''

``We have proposed up to a 3 percent merit raise and a 1.1 percent cost of living raise,'' said Sanders Bush, Plant City's human resources director. ``That is what has been proposed for all city employees in the budget.''

The average starting pay for a firefighter in Plant City is $24,937. With the city's proposed raise, the starting pay would be increased to $26,038.

All raises are subject to the vote of the city commission, which is expected to approve a new city budget next month.

The 4.1 percent raise is down from the 5 percent raise city employees were eligible for this fiscal year, due to a sluggish economy.

The firefighters' request includes up to a 3 percent merit increase and a 1.1 percent cost of living raise. The union also wants the city to pay its members an additional 4 percent raise.

Last year, while most other city employees were eligible for up to a 5 percent raise, the city approved a 9 percent raise for the Plant City Police Department.

Former Plant City City Manager Phil Waldron included the 9 percent raise in last year's budget. The city commission unknowingly approved the raise.

Waldron, who was then caught in a controversy over the raise, said the additional money was needed to help the police department maintain a competitive edge when recruiting officers.

Waldron retired in July citing health problems amid a federal corruption investigation.

As city firefighters sat across from city officials in negotiations on Thursday, city negotiator, lawyer Tom Gonzalez, said the city would not consider the union's request.

``Things change. Administrations change,'' he said.

Both sides presented salary charts, including the salaries of firefighters in Lakeland, Tampa and Hillsborough County fire departments, which were higher than the salaries offered in Plant City.

However, Bush said the city is not trying to keep up with those areas.

``We certainly don't have a problem recruiting'' firefighters, he said.

Other issues on the table include overtime pay, funeral leave, the length of the contract, and the banking of hours to attend union seminars.

Both sides are tentatively set to meet next week.