City, firefighters reach contract

JOHNSTOWN – The city and its firefighters have agreed to a contract that will use the union’s concessions on medical benefits to help offset raises totaling about 10 percent over four years as well as other cost increases.

The Common Council on Monday unanimously approved a memorandum of agreement spelling out terms of the new four-year contract that were reached Jan. 2, two days after the previous two-year contract expired. The contract, which covers 23 firefighters, calls for 2 percent raises this year and 2.5 percent raises annually through 2016, but the financial effect on the city budget will be less.

“Factoring in the health savings against the raises, it’s about 1.4 percent” in annual increases, city Treasurer Mike Gifford told the council.

Union members have been covered by the Community Blue plan – one of the more expensive plans offered by the city, Mayor Sarah Slingerland said – but the contract calls for members to switch to a less-costly plan “as soon as possible.”

“The firefighters saw the need to help the city get out from under the health insurance costs. So doing that, the city saw fit to take some of that money and give it back to the firefighters,” said Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, who is not covered by the contract.

Lawrence O’Reagan, who leads the firefighters union, could not be reached for comment this morning.

Under the memorandum of agreement approved Monday, the city increased its incentive for firefighters to opt out of city-sponsored insurance, offering up to $6,000 in buyouts for firefighters who get coverage elsewhere.

“It’s a significantly smaller contribution to pay that buyout than to pay those health insurance premiums,” said 1st Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Lakata, the council’s public-safety liaison who was credited with helping to broker the deal.

The contract calls for $100 in longevity pay to be added at each step in 2014, with an increase to $150 in 2015 and $200 in 2016. Firefighters also will get a $50 clothing allowance in 2014 and 2015, and a $100 allowance in 2016, according to the contract.

Firefighters with code-enforcement duties also will receive a $1,500 annual stipend because they “go the extra mile to get the extra training and keep it current,” Lakata said.

Slingerland said the four-year duration of the deal is important because it will help the city with long-term planning.

“When you’re trying to create budgets and trying to create a fiscal plan, it’s never in isolation from one particular year. It’s actually a spectrum of many years, back and forward,” she said. “With personnel costs, if we can project ahead and know what the numbers are going to be, that’s extremely helpful.”