Without a new contract in place, the Omaha firefighters union has petitioned the state’s labor court to resolve such issues as wages, insurance, employee benefits and compensation practices.
Filing the suit protects union members’ rights in terms of wages and working conditions, said Steve LeClair, union president.
LeClair said last week the suit was likely to be filed because there were not enough votes on the City Council to approve a new contract. The suit was filed Tuesday with the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations.
In a memo last month to the City Council, Mayor Jim Suttle’s administration said it has won concessions from firefighters on staffing, health insurance costs, pension spiking and other issues.
The latest contract proposal has no wage increases for 2009 and 2010 but does have wage hikes in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The city would save about $4.5 million in the latest proposal, according to the memo. Failing to reach agreement could cost the city between $10 million and $14 million.
Both the city and fire union continue to negotiate the deal. Talks began in 2007.
City Councilman Franklin Thompson said Wednesday that for a long time this year, nothing happened in contract talks.
He said he would have preferred to see the negotiations done simultaneously with, or just after, the police contract. The city and police union reached agreement last summer.
“In my mind the city was always ready,” Thompson said. “But I think the fire union was dragging their feet.”
Councilwoman Jean Stothert said there has been no written contract presented to the council to consider.
She said the union appears to be “turning the heat up further, a message of ‘accept what we offer or we will sue you.’”
“It is hard to accept what is offered without a contract written,” she said.
Stothert said what was contained in the Nov. 29 memo was only a summary of what could be a 150-page contract.
“Give me the entire written contract, the agreement between the city and the union, and let the people give their input, and then I will decide if I will support it,” Stothert said.
Councilman Chris Jerram also said there has been no proposal to vote on. He said negotiations continue and he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached.
LeClair said he expects a decision on the union’s 2009 filing with the Commission of Industrial Relations any day. He expects that the commission will order wage increases for firefighters that could cost $2 million to $4 million.
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