Firefighters’ union awarded wage increase, city leaders to consider staff reductions
Online Staff Report
Rockford city leaders expressed their disappointment after the local firefighters’ union was awarded a 6.1 percent wage increase for 2011.
The June 29 arbitration decision awards members of International Association of Fire Fighters 413 (IAFF) the wage increase as follows: retroactive to April 1, 2011, of 2 percent; effective July 1, 2011, of 2 percent; and effective Oct. 1, 2011, of 2 percent.
The award is estimated to cost city taxpayers $618,000 in 2011 and more than $2.1 million in increased wages in 2012, when the 6.1 percent wage is in effect for a full year.
The ruling was based on the firefighters’ final arbitration demand. The city’s final offer would have provided a 2 percent increase as of July 1, 2011, at a cost of $204,000 for 2011.
The arbitrator ruled that Aurora, Elgin and Joliet remain comparable communities for arbitration purposes, despite the city’s objection that the communities are not comparable because of their higher revenues, stronger economies and higher average income per capita than Rockford.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) said: “In essence, the arbitrator’s decision allowed the fire union to ‘catch up’ to these communities after they took a wage freeze in 2009 and 2010. This award nullifies the IAFF’s prior claim of giving a wage concession to the taxpayers.”
City leaders have already begun to brace for a 2012 budget that could include a $4 million deficit. The additional financial burden posed by the wage increase will increase the strain to the city’s limited resources.
“IAFF has fought to protect their union members, and I understand that,” Morrissey said. “But they seem to be forgetting the sacrifices other departments and employees and citizens are making. The IAFF simply is not sharing the cost of this recession like the members of the PB&PA and AFSCME, our non-represented members, and most importantly, our citizens.”
City Administrator Jim Ryan added, “The budget impact of a 6.1 percent pay increase also makes the city’s ongoing EMS analysis and fire staffing even more critical to our budget and operational decisions.”
Outsourcing the EMS service and reducing fire staffing have been suggestions in 2010 from the citizen-based Budget and Advisory Committee as well as the recent Outsourcing Study conducted by the firm Baker Tilly.
“Ironically, the comparable communities of Aurora, Elgin and Joliet that were upheld as our peer communities for wages have lower staffing per fire apparatus than Rockford,” Ryan said. “If we are going to be held to paying comparable wages to these communities, then we certainly need to have staffing that is comparable also. Our current model is simply unsustainable.”
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