Miami-Dade County reached a tentative contract with its firefighters' union that avoids the deep cuts facing some other employee groups, as negotiations continue with nine other bargaining units. The threat of layoffs is looming if labor accords aren't struck with other employee groups soon, because the county is relying on $239 million in labor concessions to keep within the new 2011-12 budget adopted last month.
The International Association of Firefighters Local 1403, which represents the county's 1,600 firefighters, is urging its members to vote for the agreement, which carves $11 million of the needed $20.6 million in departmental savings by reducing overtime. The deal was crafted with the help of new Fire Chief William “Shorty'' Bryson, who was named to the post in August by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The firefighters' agreement, posted at fire stations around the county, will be voted on by members in coming weeks. Both sides expressed optimism it will be approved.
“We came up with what I thought was not the best contract but a very fair contract, considering,'' said Dominic Barbera, the union president. “I think we're going to get a good response from our members.''
“The mayor gave everyone an opportunity to come up with their own way of achieving savings, and I give him credit for that,'' said Chief Bryson, the city of Miami's fire chief until 2009. Gimenez also is a former Miami fire chief.
While the firefighters won't have to take the pay cuts sought from some other groups, Bryson asserted that reductions in overtime and other savings measures “will come right out of their pockets. That's cuts.''
To get the overtime reductions, Bryson said the department is redeploying to fire trucks some 90 employees who were in administrative and fire boat jobs and on squads that are being eliminated. Other savings will come by not compounding wages for dive details, special operations and the like.
And every employee will take three unpaid furlough days.
Firefighters would no longer have to make 5 percent pretax contributions toward their health care coverage. And they would keep longevity raises and bonuses, which the administration was seeking to eliminate. The three-year agreement also includes no pay increases, but allows for the reopening of pay talks in the third year.
“We certainly applaud them,'' said Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, whose union continued negotiating with the county into Friday night. “If we get a [deal] as reasonable as they did, we would be willing to work with the administration.''
The police, who received greater increases in the latest go-round of contracts, are now being asked to make the greatest concessions, a total of about 21 percent in pay cuts. They are being pressed to generate a total of $70 million in savings.
Miami-Dade is facing perhaps its toughest labor negotiations ever as a reduction in the property tax rate approved by the county commission last month at the recommendation of Mayor Gimenez has forced trims in spending.
In late September, Miami-Dade's supervisors and professional employees rejected labor contracts. They were the first two of the county's 10 bargaining units to act on proposed concessions under the county's lean new budget, which took effect Oct. 1.