Fire union: Trade pay cuts for job security

Union leaders propose 2% pay cut for firefighters to avoid layoffs, demotions


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the city works on its budget for next year and closing its $32 million shortfall, Jacksonville firefighters are discussing a proposal that would avoid layoffs or demotions.

During contract negotiations Tuesday, union leaders for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department offered up pay concessions in return for job security.

The city had been asking firefighters to take a 2 percent pay cut, which amounts to $2.2 million for the department. But now the fire union has come up with an alternative, proposing to cut even more -- $2.4 million. In return, however, the department wants a guarantee there will not be any layoffs or demotions.

"We are looking for protection for our members," said Randy Wyse, president of the fire union. "We are willing to go out to our members and tell them we are willing to give more to the city than what they are asking for protection."

It's a three-year contract, but if it's approved, it would mean firefighters would go five years without a raise. That's because they took a cut last year.

The city's chief negotiator says it's something he will try to sell to the mayor.

"We have been looking to get that 2 percent cut," said Derrel Chatmon, of the Office of General Counsel. "We were looking at the old contract to see if we can get some economic concessions. This is the first time we saw a counterproposal from the union. We want to take it back and analyze it."

Other unions will be watching as well. Firefighters say it's not only for their security, but the fact that the city would not layoff or demote firefighters means safety for the city. They argue the more firefighters on staff, the safer the city will be.

Wyse said time will tell if this is something the full union will agree to.

"We will have to see," he said. "All these guys will have to go out and educate people, the members on what we are trying to do."

Both sides are still working on details and will meet later this month.