City, Fire Union to Continue Talks
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The discussions between the city and fire fighters union continue to drag out, with both parties forced back to negotiations by a special magistrate who filed recommendations after impasse was reached.
The talks have been going on since April 2009, when they began in anticipation of the termination of the current contract on September 30, 2009.
Fire fighters have been working on an extension of the old contract since the pact expired last September.
If the parties do not reach agreement based on the special magistrate's recommendations, which were filed on June 2, the matter will go to the City Commission, which will make a final decision.
At the commission level, the controversy becomes very political. With the seats of Harriet Crozier and Woody Brown coming up in November, their views on favoring the union or not could be crucial because union endorsements have always been deemed important in Largo elections.
However, for someone like Curtis Holmes, elected last November without any fire union endorsement, the city-fire union contract could be highly political at the commission level.
That is not to say that Holmes would harbor any adverse view of the union necessarily, but the basic rule in politics is that one rewards one's friends and punishes one's enemies.
Already the City Commission has met in private to hear the results of the special magistrate's report.
If nothing else, the current situation with the fire union shows that it has little power to force its will in regard to the contract.
Public employees cannot withhold their labor (strike) so, in reality, they have no weapon.
Of course, Crozier, who will probably seek re-election, continuing her 20-year career on the commission, and Brown will no doubt want the fire union's endorsement if they follow the pattern of past candidates.
The issues the two sides are hung up on are vacations - the city proposes to reduce vacation time; wages - the city wants to replace a step plan with a pay range plan; a proposal to revise Article 31 of the agreement to provide a provision to re-open talks on wages in 2011 and 2012, and the provisions of Article 32 that deal with the duration, modification and termination of the agreement.
The special magistrate, Robert McHenry, working under the aegis of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, made recommendations that union officials seem amenable to. The city had no comment. If it accepts the recommendations a new three-year contract will be signed.
In testimony before McHenry, Kim Adams, Largo's Finance Director, pointed out that the city was in its fourth straight year of reducing its budget, an unprecedented turn of events. His view was that the city could not afford what the fire fighters want.
Among his recommendations, McHenry proposed no general or cost of living salary increase in the current year. He did recommend that the agreement be reopened prior to fiscal year 2011 and 2012 for wage negotiations only.
The city currently is in the process of creating the FY 2011 budget. McHenry noted that Largo, like all jurisdictions in the state, has been hard hit by the reduction of key revenues, including state revenue sharing, sales tax and property tax.
Because property values have tanked, ad valorem revenue is in a steep decline.
What is scary in Largo is that the city is borrowed to the hilt with Penny for Pinellas - that is, the city is depending on revenue from that fund that has not yet been generated.
And, in view of the plummeting tourist revenue because of the oil spill in the Gulf, Penny for Pinellas funds are expected to be way down.
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