Town, firefighters stuck in talks


By Tim O'Meilia, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2003



PALM BEACH -- Town officials haven't negotiated a union contract in more than 30 years.

And 19 months after firefighters voted to form a union, they still don't have a contract.

Firefighters declared an impasse in the talks in early April and a special master will try to mediate the dispute probably in late June or early July.

"The first contract is always the most difficult because you're starting from scratch," said David Kornreich, the town's Orlando-based labor lawyer. "I've had a couple take several years."

Central to the disagreement is the pay structure. Local 2928 of the Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach County wants to convert from the town's pay-for-performance system to a step system based primarily on years of service.

Town negotiators will agree to that only if the union is willing to give up longevity pay, which is also based on years of service. "If you get guaranteed pay increases, you don't get guaranteed longevity as well," Kornreich said.

The union says the conversion will cost some firefighters money. "They're actually proposing pay cuts for people as high as $8,000," said union attorney Matt Mierzwa.

The two sides are not far apart on the pay scale. The union wants a 9-step plan with 5 percent annual increases, beginning at $35,486 and topping out at $55,050 for a firefighter. The town's latest wage proposal was a 10-step plan with 4 percent annual increases starting at $36,728 and increasing to $54,381.

Negotiators also disagree on disciplinary standards, overtime pay and requiring newly promoted captains to be paramedics.

Both sides will present arguments to the mediator, who will make recommendations within a month or so. Any recommendations the two sides can't accept will go to the town council for resolution.

Kornreich said a contract is possible by the time the budget year begins Oct. 1.

tim_omeilia@pbpost.com