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Midwest City, firefighters strike deal

Midwest City firefighters will receive a 2.3 percent pay raise after turning down a smaller increase last year.

The International Association of Firefighters, Local 2006, and city management last month reached a tentative contract agreement for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The proposal was formally approved by the city council during Tuesday night’s meeting.

The new contract will begin retroactively on July 1 and extend through June 30, 2017. Firefighters had been working under an extension of the 2015-16 contract as both sides negotiated in recent months.

Non-unionized city employees received a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for 2016-17 and a 1.3 percent increase in 2015-16.
Following contentious negotiations last year, the firefighters union turned down the 1.3 percent cost of living adjustment as part of their contract. Doug Beabout, union president, said they rejected the pay raise due to negative budget projections. The firefighters instead asked the city to use the money to fill vacancies within the department.

Beabout said the IAF pursued a larger raise this year after seeing a boost in the fire department’s reserve fund. He estimates the account had about $600,000 more than projected.

“The budget crisis was misrepresented and whether that was intentional or not, we refused the raise and everyone else in the city got a 1.3 percent raise,” Beabout said.

On Tuesday, the council heard from a citizen about the raise for the firefighters. Charles Thompson said the firefighters union used the lack of pay raise as leverage to hire more personnel, and questioned the city’s decision to still grant a larger pay raise.

“If they hire more people, which we did, and then you come back and give them raise they would’ve gotten if they didn’t take it. It seems a little bit mischievous at least,” Thompson said.
Mayor Matt Dukes disagreed with Thompson’s assessment and said it was an opportunity to get the firefighters caught up with other employees.

“It’s really a wash over the last two years, they didn’t gain anything over other employees in the city,” he said. “It was a good faith effort on the city and the IAF.”

Thompson, who ran against Dukes in the recent recall election, promised to keep an eye on the council.

The contract also included changes to training, grievance process, uniform and benefits.midwestcity_fireUnder the new agreement, a sergeant or apparatus operator and training chief must complete Blue Card Incident Command Certification program within one year of obtaining the position. Beabout says the training will improve leadership on scene and in turn improve safety for residents. He estimates about 50 or 60 percent of firefighters in leadership positions currently have the certification.

“With a more efficient management that will allow us to be more aggressive in attacking fires and more effective at rescuing people from burning homes,” he said.

The contract also speeds up the grievance process by reducing the number of days allowed to respond or file a grievance. The period has been reduced from 7 days to 6 days for each step of the grievance process.

Contract language was also added to allow firefighters to buy their helmet and badge upon retirement or promotion. Employees who are terminated for disciplinary reasons will forfeit those rights.

“We always did this but we thought it was important to formalize it and have language in there if someone left for disciplinary reasons,” Beabout said.

Beabout said the contract negotiations were much smoother than last year. He blamed the discourse last year on the city’s decision to hire a third-party contract negotiator.  The city eventually got rid of the third party and turned over the duties to Catherine Wilson, Human Resources Director. Wilson served as the city’s lead negotiator again this year.

“The process was much better than last year and I think the city recognized it was a mistake to hire an outside negotiator who doesn’t have a vested interested in this community,” he said. “We did leave a lot of important issues unresolved and we’ll need to start negotiations with a backlog next year.”

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