Chicago firefighters would get raises of 11 percent over five years under a proposed contract endorsed Tuesday by the City Council Workforce Development and Audit Committee.
The deal, already endorsed by the rank-and-file firefighters and emergency medical personnel who belong to Firefighters Union Local 2, is now slated for a full council vote next week.
“I couldn’t think of a person in America who wouldn’t enjoy that kind of wage increase,” said Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd. “This just to me has a large impact on our city’s financial status. And it’s better to have an agreement than have strikes and things like that, but this is a lot.”
Attorney Joseph Franczek, the city’s outside labor attorney, said firefighters could have received even bigger raises if that if the issue had gone to arbitration. As it is, they got the lowest set of firefighter wage increases since 1981. “I would submit to you that this is really a pretty reasonable agreement,” he said.
The additional cost to the city over the five years of the contract is $80 million, Franczek said. The contract covers 4,645 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and emergency medical personnel.
The contract runs through June 2017 and is retroactive to June 30, 2012 — so the city is going to have to come up with $27.6 million in back pay this year. The city already had set those funds aside, city spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said.
In past years, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police contract has been negotiated first, setting a model for firefighters union negotiations, but this time it’s reversed. Talks with the FOP are still underway and could be concluded in the fall, said Joseph Martinico, the city’s chief labor negotiator.
The firefighters agreement also calls for the city to convert 15 basic life support ambulances into more sophisticated advanced life support ambulances by the start of next year, bring the daily count of the better ambulances to 75, Martinico said.
And many firefighters also trained as emergency medical technicians would get slight increases in their higher “incentive” pay, although those hired after next Jan. 1 would have to be on the job longer to qualify for that.
Workers who retire after this year and are between the ages of 55 and 60 would have to contribute 2 percent of their monthly retirement checks to health insurance costs until they reach the age of Medicare eligibility. The city now picks up all of those costs.
There’s also a caveat to the pay increases — one that involves the fact that the city and state legislators have yet to come up with a plan to address the woefully underfunded status of the city’s police and firefighter pension systems.
If any new pension changes are enacted by the state that increase firefighter pension contributions beyond the current 9.125 percent, the union has the right to reopen the contract to discuss wages.
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