The Omaha City Council will likely have the votes to pass a proposed fire union contract, the council president said Thursday.
Thomas Mulligan called the proposal a “great compromise.”
“It's a good first step in health care reform as well as pension reform,” he said.
Members of Omaha's firefighters union have approved a proposed labor contract with the city, a key step in ratifying the deal.
Union members' ballots were tallied late Wednesday after two days of voting. The exact number of members who voted to approve the deal wasn't disclosed.
The City Personnel Board will vote on the contract during its Thursday meeting, which would send the deal to the City Council.
If the Personnel Board signs off on the agreement, the City Council will first see the contract on Dec. 4. A public hearing would be held on Dec. 11, with a vote to come on Dec. 18.
Councilwoman Jean Stothert, who served on the council's labor negotiations committee, said she expects that the council will have the votes to pass the proposal.
The labor proposal represents significant pension and benefit reforms, she said. But to make even bigger reforms, changes will be needed in the state's collective bargaining laws and state labor court, she said.
“We still feel the taxpayers are paying too much,'' she said.
The contract would cover 2011 through 2014 and would be the first between the City of Omaha and firefighters Local 385 since 2007.
Firefighters would pay a larger share of their health care and pension costs under the agreement. New hires would get lower pension benefits and have to work longer to draw full retirement.
Though the deal eliminates the controversial pension practice known as “spiking,” the contract would implement a deferred retirement program that's already been extended to fire managers and police. The program allows veteran employees to effectively draw a pension while working for the city.
Firefighters would retain their own health care plan and existing prescription drug coverage, although they would pay the same amounts as civilian employees for deductibles, out-of-pocket maximum payments, co-insurance maximums, out-of-network care and premiums.
Other parts of the deal would:
» Give firefighters a 2.5 percent pay increase for the last half of 2012, a 2.25 percent raise in 2013 and 2.9 percent in 2014.
» Preserve minimum staffing requirements on fire equipment, although the deal expands some exceptions to that rule.
» Eliminate a proposal to allow the fire union president to work on union business full time. That had been included in Mayor Jim Suttle's earlier proposal that the council rejected last year. In exchange, under the new plan, the city would offer more paid union leave hours but cut some court-ordered vacation time from other employees.
» Create “lead medic” specialty pay (with a 75-cent per hour increase) that's designed to provide leadership structure inside city paramedic units.
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