The contract between Buffalo and its firefighters approved by the Common Council on Tuesday isn’t great, but it offers some stability, said union President Daniel Cunningham.
“This is a contract that we have to live with,” Cunningham said. “This is a contract that gets us out of a 10-year hole. We have some stability going forward to 2017.
“I wouldn’t say this is a great contract for us. And I wouldn’t say this is a great contract for the city. They would have loved to have done a lot more things to us,” he said.
The Council voted, 8-0, to approve the 15-year contract with Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association Local 282 that takes effect July 1.
It includes pay raises, and for new firefighters, contributions for health care and a requirement that they must live in the city.
“It’s going to change the foundation of the city and the Fire Department, residency alone,” said Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr.
Council members said they were happy the city was able to settle a dispute that had caused friction between the firefighters and the administration and that new firefighters would be required to live in the city.
The residency requirement affects 40 current provisional firefighters, who were already required to live in the city because of their provisional status, but perhaps were planning to move out once they became permanent.
The union agreed to the contract in a 580-103 vote, but the city’s Law Department said it was prepared if individual members sued the city over the residency clause.
The contract, which will cost the city between $23 million and $29 million, will also mean that the fire commissioner and his deputies will receive raises, as stipulated in the City Charter.
The city has funds in reserve to cover the contract’s costs.
New work rules the city hopes will discourage use of sick time dictate that a fire company will close down if more than five firefighters from the company call in. The remaining firefighters would then be sent to work at other companies.
“It helps us to manage it by involving the rank and file,” Whitfield said.
The commissioner predicted the contract would serve as a blueprint for negotiations with other unions.
“I think it’s mutually beneficial for the firefighters and the city,” he said.
Earlier this year, union leadership offered harsh criticism of the administration for its negotiation tactics, but Tuesday, Cunningham credited Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball with finalizing an agreement.
“Mr. Ball showed some courage, he showed professionalism, most of all he showed honesty,” Cunningham said. “And that is what really got us over the hump to get this thing done.”
The contract does not resolve claims the union has against the city regarding promotions, Cunningham said.
In addition to the raise of about 21.05 percent effective July 1, 2012, firefighters also receive 2 percent raises during subsequent years until 2017.
Firefighters who retired prior to July 1, 2012, will not receive back pay.
New firefighters will also pay 25 percent of their health care premium if they are single, or 15 percent if they require family coverage.
The last contract with firefighters expired June 30, 2002. They received a 5.5 percent raise in 2007.
Council Member Michael J. LoCurto was not at Tuesday’s meeting.