Take it or leave it.
That's what Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle told the City Council in a letter Friday stating that he would veto any amended version of the city's contract with the firefighters union.
Council members submitted a handful of amendments to the proposed contract this week, including proposals to shorten the term of the deal and to allow the city to raise health care rates for retirees in the future.
The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the contract.
“I respectfully request the council to reconsider proposing amendments to the fire contract,” Suttle wrote. “The proposed changes are not significant enough to warrant risking defeat of this contract.”
The veto promise will have little practical impact on the contract's path through the City Council.
If the contract is amended, five of the seven council members would have to vote to approve it. Five votes also are required to override a mayoral veto.
“If they have the five votes to pass it with the amendments, I'm sure they'll have the votes to override his veto,” Deputy City Clerk Sandie Moses said.
In his letter, Suttle wrote that he encouraged council members to be “actively involved” in the negotiation process with the fire union. He praised some council members for offering ideas and concerns along the way.
Suttle also wrote that the fire union has made it clear that it will not accept the proposed changes to the deal.
Union president Steve LeClair, who has said the union would not accept changes to the contract, said Friday he isn't ready to comment on the specific proposals put forth by council members.
Nonetheless, he said, the council was “very involved” in the negotiation process. Their concerns were communicated during negotiations by the administration's team, he said.
But some council members said they weren't allowed into the process as much as they would have liked.
Councilman Chris Jerram said the council never saw an actual copy of the contract, prior to the deal being announced publicly.
“A couple of council members pleaded with the administration to provide us with a written proposal,” he said. “What we got is generalized bullet points.”
Under city rules, the City Council has the power to negotiate labor contracts, said City Attorney Paul Kratz. But decades ago, the council passed a resolution ceding negotiations to the administration, he said.
The council could pass a resolution to take that power back, he said.
Pat Barrett, the city's outside labor counsel, said the council's involvement in the police management contract in the last few weeks might signal “a change in the hands-off approach” the council has taken to participating in negotiations.
Council members worked directly with police managers on revisions to that contract, said council member Jean Stothert. The result was a contract with smaller raises approved by the council this week.
The police managers contract covers only a few employees, while the fire union has more than 600 members.
Stothert said she has considered crafting a resolution asking that negotiating power be returned to the council.
She said she has talked with her colleagues about hiring an outside negotiator, who would work for the council to handle dealings with unions.
“There's definitely the interest (on the council),” she said. “As far as the timing, we've got to talk more about that.”
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