A showdown is looking more likely between the Kansas City Council and the local firefighters union, based on the latest wage proposal.
The council’s Finance Committee voted 4-0 Wednesday in favor of a proposal that Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters immediately denounced. The measure goes to the full council on March 24.
“We are still not in general agreement but we’ve got a path forward,” City Manager Troy Schulte said as he urged support for the proposed deal through April 30, 2020.
The impasse comes as the city tries to resolve labor negotiations that have dragged out for more than a year with the city’s most influential union, which represents about 1,175 firefighters and ambulance workers.
It also comes as overtime in the Fire Department has spiked by millions of dollars over budget. Some say those overtime payments are contributing to a large number of Fire Department employees earning well over $100,000, while the union says it’s a reflection of understaffing.
Schulte said that if revenues materialize as hoped, the wage deal would provide annual 2 percent raises over the next four years, as contemplated by the city’s five-year financial plan.
If new emergency medical revenues don’t grow by at least $6 million, the latest plan also proposes that wages would be frozen in the agreement’s fourth and fifth years.
Schulte said the city can’t afford higher raises in the long term, especially if that new revenue doesn’t happen, adding, “We’re just trying to make the math work.”
But Bill Galvin, president of Local 42, said he hadn’t seen the proposal until Wednesday, and he shot it down.
“To me this is bargaining in bad faith,” he told the committee. “Our membership is not going to agree with this at all.”
Galvin said the union has proposed raises of 2.6 percent over the next four years, which he believes the city can afford. He said some newer members of the union have seen more years of pay freezes than raises, and it takes 16 years to get to top pay.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, chair of the finance committee, said after the meeting that talks between the union and city manager broke down some time ago, so now the council is trying to make a decision that moves the negotiations forward.
While the committee voted unanimously for the city manager’s latest proposal, Wagner acknowledged he doesn’t know how the full 13-member council will vote next week. And he said some council members may come up with a compromise that’s more palatable to the union.
But the council hopes to wrap up negotiations soon, since the new budget also gets voted on March 24.
As wage talks with the union get more contentious, Wagner and Schulte said fire overtime also remains a huge budget concern. This year’s budget had contemplated $7 million in fire overtime, but it’s now on track to top $12 million.
A city document shows the top 100 Fire Department employees make more than $103,000. The list includes the chief and battalion chiefs as well as Local 42 members. Wagner said some union members double their annual salary through overtime, and efforts to rein in those costs haven’t been successful.
Galvin responded that overtime is a different issue and has resulted because the city hasn’t fully staffed the Fire Department.