Firefighters Seek Promise of No Demotions; Union Says Members Need Security, but City Pursues Flexibility

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons

The Jacksonville firefighters union and the city inched closer toward a contract agreement Tuesday, but the two sides remain divided, in part over differing philosophical goals.

The major sticking point: Although the city is willing to promise no layoffs during the three years of the contract, it won't acquiesce to the union's request for no demotions, saying it needs that ability to react to changing situations.

"What I'm trying to make sure is everyone in the city has a job three years from now, [a promise] which no one else in the city of Jacksonville has," said city labor attorney Derrel Chatmon.

But with the city already planning not to fill 87 vacancies in the next fiscal year, such a promise doesn't mean much, said union President Randy Wyse, because layoffs aren't likely anyway.

The workers need stability, he said, which would come from knowing they won't be demoted other than for cause.

Tuesday's negotiating season featured the city's counteroffer to an earlier union proposal.

The union's offer - a 1 percent pay cut and the elimination of other benefits, such as food and laundry allowances - would save the city about $2.4 million a year, slightly more than the $2.2 million the city was looking to save. The union offer stipulated no layoffs or demotions.

They city's response for rank-and-file members had the same pay and benefit cuts as the union offer and also eliminates a $10-a-month dental health plan-related payment and the paid hour firefighters get off to vote on election days. …