The Lehigh Acres Board of Fire Commissioners is seeking a 25 percent across-the-board cut in firefighter pay and cuts in other compensation, as contract negotiations
between the board and the firefighters union opened Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16 and 17.
Nikhil Joshi said the Board is seeking the reductions in the Tentative Agreement now being negotiated. According to Joshi, the Board of Fire Commissioners faces a $2 million to $2.5 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2012-2013, necessitating the cuts. In addition, extensive layoffs are possible if Federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response - SAFER - Grant funding is not renewed.
The Board and the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1826, Districts 6 and 19 are seeking a successor agreement to "establish rates of pay, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment." The current agreement expires on Sept. 30, 2012.
Joshi is from the Sarasota law firm of Kunkel, Miller, and Hament, which specializes in labor and employment law, and represents the Board. Battalion Chief John Wayne and Fire Lt. Terry Dettmar represent the battalion chiefs of District 19 and the rank and file firefighters of District 6, respectively. Representatives met at Fire Station 105 in Lehigh Acres.
The tentative agreement proposes cuts in firefighter "Base Step Plan" wages, training pay, and other compensation. It eliminates Kelly Days and proposes increases in employee contributions for some benefits while eliminating others. The tendered agreement also provides for part-time firefighters.
If enacted, the salary of a Firefighter Base Step 1, an entry level firefighter, would move from $16.217 to $10.066 per hour, an annual pay cut from $40,478.759 to $30,358.224.
Emergency Medical Technician add-on pay would drop from $3,000 to $750 and paramedic add-on pay would drop from $13,000 to $3,250 annually.
Kelly Days are slated for elimination, providing for "more hands on deck," according to Joshi.
Firefighters work 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty on a three-week cycle, resulting in 56-hour average work weeks. A Kelly Day or an additional day off every seventh shift reduces the average work week to 48 hours. When firefighters take their Kelly Days, "floaters" rotate among the fire stations to maintain minimum staffing, according to Fire Lt. Dale Piniero.
According to Joshi, eliminating Kelly Days will save the district an estimated $700,000 to $800,000 annually while increasing the firefighters' average work weeks from 48 to 56 hours.
If approved, the agreement would permit the fire chief and board to hire part-time firefighters for up to 30 hours per week. Depending on qualifications, part-time firefighters would be paid between $9.50 and $15 per hour with "No benefits except as required by law."
Long-term disability and family health insurance and State of Florida Health Insurance Subsidies for retired employees, who retire after Oct. 1, 2012, would be eliminated, according to the agreement proposed.
Education Pay, for advanced education and training such as fire investigators, fire inspectors, and for various skills, e.g. CPR instructor would be slashed by 20 to 25 percent.
In May of 2010, the Leigh Acres Fire and Rescue District received an $8.9 million SAFER Grant that expires in August 2012.
Without SAFER Grant funds, the Fire District will need to lay off, 40-50 employees, according to Terry Dettmar. Joshi said 47 employees faced layoff without a SAFER Grant.
A Dec. 17 IAFF press release announced the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Bill provides $337.5 million in SAFER Grant funding.
"The board (Lehigh Acres Board of Fire Commissioners) may not want to apply for a SAFER Grant," Joshi said.
The representatives agreed to meet every three to four weeks, to schedule their next meeting on or about Jan. 25, 2012 and to hold future meetings at Station 104, 3102 16th SW, (Sunshine Blvd South and 16th St. SW).
Neither Fire Chief Don Adams nor any member of the Board of Fire Commissioners attended the initial meetings. Although prohibited from commenting, the public was invited to attend the meeting. There was no public attendance.
CAPTIONS FOR STORY ARE AT RIGHT:
Nikhil Joshi, lead negotiator and attorney for the Lehigh Acres Board of Fire Commissioners
Battalion Chief John Wayne, lead negotiator for District 19, IAFF, Local 1826