Florida Firefighters to Push for New Salary Discussion

In January, the Hialeah City Council approved a pay raise and a bonus for the city's firefighters after months of unsuccessful contract negotiations.

But the firefighters weren't happy with the deal -- or raw deal, as they would call it -- and resoundingly rejected the contract 173-0.

On Tuesday, the firefighters plan to go back to the council and again ask for what they feel they deserve; namely, equal pay with the salaries of firefighters in other parts of the county.

The Hialeah Firefighter's Union presented research at previous council meetings that shows their salaries average 13 percent less than their colleagues' in departments elsewhere in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

''Give us parity or send us to the county,'' said Luis Espinosa, president of the firefighters union.

Discussions between the city and the county over the possibility of merging the two departments have yet to materialize. In the meantime, the firefighters' contract will revert back to terms agreed upon in the 2002-03 fiscal year.

That means no 3 percent pay raise each year for the next three years; no 0.5 percent increase in specialty pay; and no 5 percent pay raise for out-of-class assignments -- when a firefighter has to work in place of an absent colleague of higher rank.

It also means firefighters will not receive a $1,000 stipend; although, Espinosa says they should.

''I don't understand their thinking, because they could have gotten the percentage increase for this year,'' Council President Julio Robaina said Thursday.

Robaina said the terms of the contract approved by the council were more than fair, given, he said, the city's budget constraints.

''At the end of the day, the only ones that are being hurt are the firefighters,'' he said.

Espinosa said rejecting the contract was the only way the firefighters will have bargaining power in future contract negotiations.

The firefighters, who have received no pay increase in more than two years and have been working without a contract since October 2003, didn't want to settle for a pay raise without it being applied retroactively.

''This time around our whole emphasis is if you're going to stick us with zero percent retroactive pay for 18 months, we're not going to accept it,'' Espinosa said. ''You're going to have to impose it on us.''