Three years after their last contract expired, firefighters in Kansas City, Kan., voted this week to accept a raise and other terms of a new contract that runs through 2018. Unified Government commissioners signed off Thursday night.
The sides reached agreement about a month after a fact-finder ruled on a dozen issues — including proposed sick leave changes, raises, and promotion and grievance procedures — that had created a bargaining impasse.
Management and union officials agreed to accept some of the fact-finder’s recommendations while settling others separately.
The new contract awards a 5 percent raise, part of it retroactive, in increments spread from 2015 to 2017. The overall raise matches what other employees of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan. already received for those years. That span marks the best three-year raise cycle for Unified Government workers in 10 years.
Additionally, the Unified Government agreed to give firefighters a 2 percent raise for 2018. Mayor Mark Holland said Thursday he wanted to assure other employees that he intends to seek the same raise for them for 2018.
The International Association of Firefighters Local No. 64 also had wanted, but did not get, another 2 percent raise for the second half of 2018.
For the first time, firefighters will have to pay a share of health insurance premiums, something other Unified Government employees already do. They are to pay $30 monthly, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016.
Firefighter raises and benefits should be in line with those of other Unified Government employees, Holland said.
“I am committed to every employee getting same cost of living increase, as a fairness issue,” he said. “This contract fulfills the best practices of safety, sustainability and fairness.”
The Unified Government’s three public safety agencies — the sheriff’s office and Kansas City, Kan., fire and police departments — account for 60 percent of the Unified Government’s annual budget. The Fire Department spends the most, about $62 million a year.
Keeping contract costs in check will help the Unified Government accrue funding for more equipment and new fire stations in parts of Wyandotte County that experience long response times, officials said. Discussions will continue this year as part of a study on fire department staffing levels and locations.
Negotiations did not lead to any new contract language for “shift trading.” The practice became an issue after auditors revealed last year that some Kansas City, Kan., firefighters had traded away many shifts without working the same number in return. That resulted in more than $1 million, including about $250,000 in overtime, being paid to firefighters who did not work the shifts.
The practice raised concerns about possible unmonitored cash payments being made between firefighters to compensate those picking up extra shifts. The practice also raised safety concerns, as firefighters normally work one 24-hour shift every three days. If firefighters work back-to-back shifts, or too many shifts within a few days, fatigue could jeopardize public safety, officials said.
Instead of changing contract language, the sides agreed to talk more later and perhaps change some shift-trading procedures. But because the contract did not address the issue, especially the financial implications, Commissioner Gayle Townsend said she would not vote for it. Hers was the only dissenting vote cast Thursday night.
Approval of the contract means that the Unified Government has reached agreements with all 13 unions that represent Unified Government employees.