Gardens firefighters call for mediation
By Jennifer Sorentrue
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 30, 2005
PALM BEACH GARDENS ó Contract talks between the city and its firefighters have collapsed, and union representatives are calling for a state mediator to help resolve the stalemate.
After several months of negotiations, the city and the firefighters have not been able to reach an accord on five issues, including pay raises and random drug- and alcohol-testing.
The union is asking for a 5 percent annual pay raise, coupled with a second "step" raise. And the firefighters are refusing to submit to the random drug- and alcohol-testing unless the city gives them the pay raises and other benefits, said Joel Brier, executive vice president of the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of Palm Beach County.
City officials have agreed to the 5 percent increase but not the second raise, which they estimate will cost about $3 million over the next three years. About two-thirds of the city's firefighters would qualify for the yearly "step" raises, resulting in a 10-percent-per-year pay hike, Fire Chief Pete Bergel said.
"Ultimately it's the taxpayers that have to foot the bill," City Manager Ron Ferris said. "We are trying to be fair and equitable with taxpayer money."
Brier, however, says the increase would actually be much less, because many of the city's firefighters won't qualify for the second raise.
Union representatives had originally supported random drug- and alcohol-screening, but later withdrew their support when city officials did not agree to the proposed salary increases, Brier said.
"The union doesn't oppose drug-testing," Brier said. "It's not an issue. We proposed it with our salary (increases)."
The city's firefighters are currently tested for drugs and alcohol if there is "reasonable suspicion'' or after an on-duty injury or accident
Roughly 30 other city employees, all certified to operate heavy machinery, are required to submit to random drug tests.
The mediator will make nonbinding recommendations to both parties. If the city and union don't agree with the recommendations, the city council decides on a contract.
It could be several months before the mediator makes the recommendations.
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08-07-2005, 11:08 PM #1
Palm Beach Gardens Fireifighters ask for Mediation
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