City, firefighters settle on a new contract

Package includes raise, increase in starting salary and bonuses

By CHARLES RUNNELLS, crunnells@news-press.com
Published by news-press.com on November 23, 2003



Cape Coral firefighters can expect a hot raise next month, thanks to a new union contract that took months to hammer out.

City and firefighter representatives started negotiating the average 7.92 percent raise and other benefits in June, said Phil Jackson, the Cape’s human resources director.

The new contract hikes the hourly pay for starting firefighters from $11.65 to $12.46. Top firefighters will make $17.01 per hour instead of $15.93.

The contract also shortens the normal work week from 52 hours to 48 — quickly becoming standard for most fire departments, Jackson said.

City council approved the raise Nov. 17.

The council also approved a stepped program giving another approximate 7.81 percent raise in Fall 2004 and a 3.51 percent raise in Fall 2005, said Phil Jackson.

The 2005 raise only affects half the year, Jackson said.

Jackson said the raise will help Cape Coral attract more firefighters and keep current ones from leaving for higher-paying departments.

Negotiators compared Cape Coral firefighter salaries to 11 other Florida fire departments of similar size, including Fort Myers, North Naples and Fort Myers Beach.

Before the raise, Cape ranked as the 11th lowest, Jackson said. Now, the firefighters are up to sixth.

“We were next to the bottom,” Jackson said. “So you can see, attracting firefighters was a problem.”

Jerry Doviak, president of Firefighters Local 2424, said he was pleased with the raise but wished council had picked up the tab for family health insurance, as well. That’s one of a firefighter’s biggest expenses, he said.

The city doesn’t pay for family health benefits for any city employees — only employee benefits.

“But the base pay is back up, and that’s a good start,” Doviak said.

Doviak said it’s important to keep a well-trained police and emergency staff, and without a competitive wage and other benefits, those people will get a few years’ experience under their belt and then move to a better-paying department.

“The core level of government is public safety,” Doviak said. “If we don’t get good firefighters, EMS and police officers, the community is in trouble.”

The contract talks lasted from June to October.

The talks came six months after city council unanimously rejected a contract proposed by Firefighters Local 2424. The council instead passed a cheaper one proposed by city negotiators.

Firefighters will see the raise in their Dec. 1 paychecks. The raises are retroactive to Oct. 1, Jackson said.

Other contract changes include more pay for firefighters trained in paramedic work. Depending on their skill level, paramedics can get an extra $35-$260 week, Jackson said. The former range was zero to $238.

Jackson said the negotiations were sometimes strained, but everyone remained business-like and professional.

“They bargained very hard, and the city bargained hard,” he said. “But we kept at it.”