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City, Fire Union settle new contract quickly

Deal includes pay raises in 2019, 2020

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Considering it was almost two years in the making, negotiations for the City of Westminster’s first municipal labor union contract went remarkably smooth and quickly.

City Councilors praised by Westminster Professional Firefighters Local 2889 leaders and city representatives in settling a labor contract at their April 2 meeting.

The contract calls for for pay raises of three percent in 2019 and a combined increase of five percent in 2020 — half in January of that year and half in July — and establishes a committee of union and city management officials to address future fire department concerns.

According to the new contract, which takes full effect in 2019, fire firefighters will remain on the same medical and dental benefits plan as other non-union city employees.

“This is an example of how you can do it when you want to work together,” Mayor Herb Atchison said at the April 2 City Council meeting just before councilors unanimously approved the new contract.

“The fact that you have it done and have it here tonight to get it approved is a monumental task,”Atchison said. “Most contracts that I’ve seen have taken a year to two years of negotiations.”

Deputy Fire Chief Derik Minard said the negotiators just needed six meetings in February to come to terms and seal the deal — if you don’t consider the year’s worth of preparations that led up to the formal negotiations and the political campaign for the November 2016 ballot that resulted in the city recognizing the union.

Voters approved a measure at the Nov. 2106 polls that let the firefighters to bargain collectively with the city on matters regarding wages, benefits, personal safety and disputes. It was incomplete, however, and councilor needed to approve an ordinance in Feb. 2017 to allow the city to negotiate.

Minard said that negotiators from both sides have been working together since then to settle the negotiation process.

“There was literally two months of work leading up to all that, really identifying what the city, the citizens and the union wanted to speak to,” Minard said.

Both sides even attended an arbitration course.

“We went through a two day training, about 16 hours,” Minard said. “Both sides come together as a single group and everyone collectively brings their interests. You put them out for everyone to see and collectively, both teams come up with options for each interests and then you start working through them.”

In the end, that meant both sides were able to zero in on their areas of agreement and their differences, and then get them settled.

“We did the non-economic issues first,” Minard said. “Those were things like promotions, discipline representation — that kind of thing. And then we moved on to the economic issues, like pay and benefits.”

Union members voted to ratify the contract on March 19.

“The beautiful thing is we have such a strong relationship, from our lowest fire fighter to the chief, that relationship translated into the negotiation process,” Minard said. “It really was not all that different from the way we were doing business from the beginning.”

No strikes

The new contract begins in Jan. 2019 and runs through Jan. 2021. It includes a “no strike” clause where fire staff, as public employees, are prohibited from strikes, work stoppages or slow-downs, work disruptions or mass absenteeism. Doing so could result in firing for the employee and cancelling the collective bargaining agreement with the city.

It creates a labor/management committee that will meet quarterly to discuss fire department employee concerns and suggestions. It also sets up a process for handling employee grievances, having them reviewed first by union leadership, then the Fire Chief and City Manager before sending the matter out for binding arbitration.

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