Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Contract Talks Still Unresolved; Emergency Workers Losing Personnel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Contract Talks Still Unresolved; Emergency Workers Losing Personnel

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Months of negotiations at the collective bargaining table in Green Cove Springs have stalled, leaving most of Clay County's firefighters and emergency rescue personnel working without a contract.

The longer the stalemate continues, union officials say, the longer the county will have to deal with high turnover in the Fire and Rescue Division caused by veteran firefighters leaving for more money elsewhere.

"About 75 people have left in the past eight years to go to higher-paying jobs in the same service," said Capt. Danny Philemon, president of Clay County Fire and Rescue Professionals. "Some went to Putnam and St. Johns [counties], but the majority went to Jacksonville."

Philemon, a firefighter in Clay County for 23 years, said he expects 10 others to leave within a week. He said they already have been offered jobs with the Jacksonville Fire Department.

"They've had their physical [exams] and they've been sized for new uniforms," he said. "The starting salary in Clay County is $23,300. In Jacksonville, they start at $27,500."

Though veteran firefighters are continuing to do their jobs as competently and as diligently as possible, he said, the high turnover produces "a lot of new green, inexperienced people."

The main stumbling block in contract negotiations, which began in April, is the same issue that has kept management and union leaders at odds for years: salaries.

County administrators have offered Clay's approximately 110 unionized firefighters the same 3 percent pay raise that all other county employees received when the new budget year began Oct. 1.

County Manager Bob Wilson, citing rising costs that have created an extremely tight budget year, said firefighters should not expect any more than their fellow county employees received. Besides, he said, firefighters are doing a job they love.

"They want to be firefighters," he said. "You're not born a firefighter. …

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