Naples, firefighters reach tentative contract agreement

It’s been more than a year, but representatives for the Naples firefighters and the city of Naples have reached a tentative contract agreement.

The agreement came after a marathon meeting between the two sides Friday afternoon, and is not final until both the union — the Professional Firefighters of Naples, IAFF Local 2174 — and Naples City Council approve it.

The firefighters have been without a contract since Sept. 30, and have been at the negotiating table since May 2008.

The tentative agreement is a three-year pact with the ability to reopen all financial articles. If needed, union members or the city may reopen these articles next year budgetary reasons.

It includes changes to holiday pay, education reimbursement and wages. The firefighters’ pension plan, a sticking point throughout the year-long process, is also touched on.

When it comes to wages the contract does not allow for any across the board salary increases in fiscal 2009, but does provide for firefighters to get their step increase, a pay increase based on number of years worked, for the current year. Firefighters will then be frozen at that step increase for the remainder of the contract, due to budgetary constrains.

While union members will still be covered by pension benefits, the draft of the agreement states that on or before Sept. 30 the pension plan will be changed to reflect “a stop and restart” of benefits. This change means that some benefits will be reduced, but will later be restored to the previous level.

This change isn’t guaranteed though. Before the city can implement this plan, it needs to be approved by the Florida Division of Retirement. If the department doesn’t approve the change, the two sides will be back at the table for negotiations.

Firefighters will also have to pay 5 percent from their salary into the pension and retirement fund for the duration of their time at the city.

Union representatives also tentatively agreed to:

• Full pay for holidays between Dec. 1, 2008, and Sept. 11 on or before Sept. 30. Holiday pay for the remainder of the contract will be reduced by 50 percent because of budgetary constraints. Full payment, according to the draft, will be reinstated at the discretion of the city manager;

• The city will not approve educational reimbursement for coursework beginning Aug. 1. This too is for budgetary reasons, and will be reinstated at the discretion of the city manager;

• The city has tentatively agreed to an article that honors prevailing rights. This article essentially states that rights, privileges and working conditions that aren’t covered in the contract will remain in effect unless they are changed by mutual consent.

Union president Adam Nadelman said Friday that the prevailing rights clause was an important selling point to his membership especially since the union is giving up so much in the contract.

“Our concern is not is it the right or wrong thing to do, it’s that we have to sell this,” he said during negotiations.

“I don’t even know how to sell this to the guys. The only gains are not losing everything.”

Nadelman said Friday he understood the city’s position, but was relieved to finally have an agreement.

Roger Reinke, the city’s assistant city manager and labor relations manager, said he felt the tentative agreement would benefit the city.

“I think the agreement helps us control labor costs in the next year,” Reinke said.

Labor costs account for the largest part of the city’s budget. The city is facing a $2.5 million shortfall in fiscal 2010.

Nadelman said the union’s members will be asked to ratify the contract in the near future. A date for that meeting was not immediately available.

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