City, firefighters’ union contract ends two years of negotiations

Published 7:13 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

By a vote of 6-1 Monday night, the Austin City Council officially approved a new contract with the local firefighters’ union, ending nearly two years of negotiating.

The deal includes some new language in terms of employee benefits — an area that several firefighters said afterward was a big sticking point during talks.

For example, firefighters who put in 2,912 hours a year — which is typical for firefighters who currently work 10- and 14-hour days — will now accrue holiday, vacation and sick time faster than someone working 2,080 hours a year, or 40 hours per week on a standard workday schedule.

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Ultimately, the city can set schedules, with the discretion to choose anywhere between 8- and 24-hour shifts.

In addition, the new contract requires that a firefighter be notified at least two weeks in advance if their regular schedule will be changed.

Firefighters will also receive 3 percent wage increases for 2008, 2009 and 2010, the last year of the new deal.

Firefighter Chris Grunewald said he was happy a contract was done.

“It was a learning process,” he said, noting that his union’s negotiating team hadn’t worked on a contract before.

“I think it’ll help us the next time.”

Grunewald said the process did get tedious at points.

“Every time someone offered something,” he said, “it seemed like there was a two-month gap in the response.”

City administrator Jim Hurm also acknowledged that the deal was slow-moving.

“It just took a long time to get through the issues,” he said.

Councilman Brian McAlister, who was the lone vote against the new deal, said he made his decision partially as a protest against how long it took to settle.

“I was just unhappy with the length of time it took and the final language,” he said.

The deal took so long, in fact, that negotiators will be back at it in about a year because the new contract only goes through 2010.

“At least having it is a great thing,” Grunewald said.