If the new union that represents Bellevue’s part-time firefighters had a few more dollars in its war chest, members might not have accepted their first two-year contract with the city.
Legal fees for taking the pact to arbitration before the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations would have cost between $30,000 and $50,000, said Larry Chandler, president of the Bellevue Firefighters Association.
So a majority of the union’s 106 members voted to accept Bellevue’s pay offer of between $11.50 per hour and $13.34 per hour. The union had requested a pay range about $2 higher.
“The way I see it was ‘Go to the CIR or take the city deal,’” Chandler said. “We couldn’t afford to go after a fair wage.”
The contract was signed Monday and is retroactive to Oct. 1. It runs through Sept. 30, 2014, and covers part-time firefighters, emergency medical technicians, fire apparatus engineers and driver medics. The deal covers all of the department’s 145 part-time positions.
Bellevue City Administrator Dan Berlowitz called the contract fiscally responsible and said he was glad the union avoided arbitration.
“If we had gone to the CIR, it would have been difficult, because there is no comparable (fire) department in the state,” Berlowitz said. “They would have had to go outside the state to find another part-time department, and the firefighters ... and we would’ve rolled the dice.”
About three years ago, Bellevue bowed to a state requirement that the city move from a volunteer fire department to a paid one. The process is gradual, and currently only the fire chief, an assistant fire chief, four battalion chiefs, three fire captains, two assistant EMS supervisors and a fire inspector are full-time positions.
The annual cost of running the fire department when it was entirely volunteer was about $700,000 a year. The net cost now sits at about $3.9 million and is expected to approach $6.8 million when it becomes an entirely full-time, paid department — some time after 2014.
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