A tentative contract with city firefighters, which includes wage increases, greater employee contributions for health care for new hires and a residency requirement, is poised to end an impasse that has lasted more than 10 years.
Members of Local 282, Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association, voted last week to approve the contract, which was negotiated by union leadership and members of the Brown administration. Common Council members will vote on whether to approve it next week or later this month, depending on how long they deliberate.
The contract includes a one-time 13.5 percent wage increase for the most-senior firefighters and less for more-junior firefighters, and subsequent 2 percent increases during the next four years. The increases represent less than 2 percent increase per year over the life of the contract, which covers 2002 through 2016.
The contract also sets up more pay steps, from five to 13, eliminates cosmetic surgery benefits, cuts about a week of vacation and reduces sick time accruals.
In addition, it moves more firefighters into a less-costly health insurance plan and changes work rules, which is expected to save the city money and increase yearly longevity pay from $125 to $210 for all firefighters who have more than one year with the department.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said he is “confident that our efforts to resolve an unprecedented 15-year contract term will be recognized as both fiscally responsible and forwarding thinking.” Brown is campaigning for a third term, and the unsettled contract with firefighters was viewed as a major piece of unfinished business from his tenure.
Several Council members who had reviewed the contract said they were inclined to approve it, as long as the city could afford it.
“My gut feeling is just approve it, get it over with,” said North Council Member Joseph Golombek.
Lawmakers said they were pleased the contract includes a requirement that firefighters hired after Jan. 1, 2012, live in the city. In practice, the contract won’t require firefighters to move. About 40 firefighters have been hired in the last 18 months, and all are classified as being in a provisional status, which already requires city residency.
“Hopefully, this ends a decade of dysfunction, especially when it comes to public safety contracts,” said Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder.
Firefighters rejected contracts in 2007 and 2008, but obtaining a new contract has been a priority of the union. Members have protested Brown at campaign fundraisers and other events.
Messages left for two fire union officials were not returned.