Largo Rejects Ideas of Special Magistrate on Fire Union Deadlock
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The deadlock between the city and the fire fighters union will come before the City Commission for resolution and the issue is loaded with political implications.
The city rejected last week the special magistrate's recommendations and now the City Commission must play the role of arbiter.
This very notion raises all kinds of political considerations because the union has traditionally played a role in endorsing candidates seeking election to the City Commission.
In last fall's election, the fire fighters union did not endorse Curtis Holmes, who nevertheless was elected.
At the same time, two other members of the commission, Harriet Crozier and Woody Brown, are seeking re-election in November's election.
Endorsements are about the only power the union has. Unlike most unions, workers cannot withhold their labor (go on strike) as a weapon. It is forbidden to public employees.
Given the severe financial crunch in the city with work proceeding on a fiscal year 2011 budget that has a $3.5 million shortfall and with even more cuts looming in the future in an ever deteriorating situation, it is unlikely the city can afford to give the fire fighters any concessions resembling anything that will cost money.
Already, the city is under a "no pay raises" injunction, although the city's legal officer, Alan Zimmet, did get an increase (bringing him to almost $2,300 a week for part time work), breaking the general rule.
The fire fighters, represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), called the special magistrate's recommendations "fair," but in a letter last week, Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager who has been the lead for the city on the negotiations, rejected the special magistrate's ideas.
Basically, the city's position is that it cannot afford more expenses. One thing the city wanted to do with a new contract to accomplish some savings was to eliminate the current pay scheme of using a step plan.
With this, fire fighters can get two increases in a year up to the maximum pay. The city wanted a pay range plan, like all other city employees, including police, have.
Robert McHenry, the special magistrate, recommended keeping the step plan, calling, according to Schubert's June 22 letter to the city manager, Norton Craig, informing him of the rejection of the recommendations, other pay schemes in the city "irrelevant."
When the City Commission takes up the subject, at a date not yet set, the political pot will be boiling. Crozier is terrified to go against the interests of the union; that is known. And Brown may be, also.
But if they do favor the union stance they are caught on the dilemma of the city's precarious financial position. Kim Adams, the Finance Director, said at the special magistrate's hearing May 20 that the city has cut expenses to the bone.
No one suggests that Holmes will be vengeful, but most observers are cognizant of the old political axiom that "you reward your friends and punish your enemies."
If the city does impose a contract, it will be of brief duration. State statute says that it can do so only for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.
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