ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH FIRE­FIGHT­ERS UNION IN­CLUDES $95M IN BACK PAY

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Mayor Lori Light­foot has cut a one-year deal with the Chicago Fire­fight­ers Union that in­cludes $95 mil­lion in back pay but would nearly dou­ble em­ployee health care con­tri­bu­tions.

One union of­fi­cial said rank-and-file mem­bers are “not happy” about the hike in health care costs, though the con­tract also main­tains trea­sured union perks and out­dated staffing re­quire­ments that cost tax­pay­ers mil­lions.

How­ever, the mayor’s of­fice said the higher health care con­tri­bu­tions by em­ploy­ees would save tax­pay­ers roughly $7 mil­lion a year. Ac­tive mem­bers will have to pay an ad­di­tional 1.5% of their salaries to­ward health care costs. The deal also raises the salary cap for those con­tri­bu­tions to $115,000.

Fire­fight­ers and paramedics would con­tinue to be el­i­gi­ble for re­tiree health care at age 55. But, the new deal would re­quire fu­ture re­tirees be­tween 55 and 60 to con­trib­ute 3% to­ward their health care costs. Those be­tween 60 and 62 would con­trib­ute 1.5% of their re­tire­ment an­nu­ity to­ward their ben­e­fit.

The deal still must be rat­i­fied. The cur­rent con­tract ex­pired June 30, 2017. The new agree­ment runs through June 30, 2021. It in­cludes a 10% pay raise with all but 2.5% of it retroac­tive.

“The men and women of the Chicago Fire Depart­ment have been on the front lines of a cri­sis that is en­tirely with­out prece­dent in our city,” Light­foot said in a state­ment is­sued by her of­fice.

The new con­tact, the mayor said, will “en­sure that our first re­spon­ders re­ceive the fair wages and ben­e­fits they de­serve while still be­ing ju­di­cious with tax­payer re­sources.”

For­mer Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been close to a new fire­fight­ers’ con­tract that would have traded health in­surance con­ces­sions for a re­duc­tion in daily “vari­ances” from the min­i­mum man­ning re­quire­ment that trig­gered the bit­ter 1980 fire­fight­ers strike.

That rule re­quires ev­ery piece of fire ap­pa­ra­tus to be staffed by at least five em­ploy­ees.

But time ran out on Emanuel’s se­cond term be­fore the deal got done.

Light­foot has talked in­ter­nally about seek­ing some of those same con­ces­sions, but set­tled for only one ma­jor one — higher em­ployee and re­tiree con­tri­bu­tions to­ward the ris­ing cost of health care.

“Rank and file not happy. Health care costs [nearly] dou­bled,” Rob Tebbens, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Chicago Fire­fight­ers Union Lo­cal 2, wrote in a text mes­sage to the Sun-Times.

“Ac­tive mem­ber, sin­gle cov­er­age mak­ing $115,000 will see a 175 per­cent in­crease while teach­ers are frozen and only in­crease mod­estly. Mayor promised more am­bu­lances in me­dia, but didn’t de­liver.”

Vet­eran para­medic Pat Fitz­mau­rice was even more dis­ap­pointed in Light­foot, who ben­e­fited greatly when Lo­cal 2 en­dorsed her over County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle.

“She lied. She said more am­bu­lances and we got no more am­bu­lances,” Fitz­mau­rice wrote in a text mes­sage.

“She said she needed to ne­go­ti­ate for more am­bu­lances in the new con­tract, which was [also] a lie. Doesn’t need con­tract to add. Then, she told [for­mer Chan­nel 2 in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter] Pam Zek­man she was com­mit­ted to more am­bu­lances and we would get them. An­other lie.”

Fitz­mau­rice noted the Chicago Fire Depart­ment’s emer­gency med­i­cal sys­tem is the “se­cond-busiest” in the coun­try.

“With 80 am­bu­lances, it’s a dis­grace,” he wrote.

Lo­cal 2 Pres­i­dent Jim Tracy could not be reached for com­ment on the ten­ta­tive agree­ment.

Light­foot said she looks for­ward “to re­turn­ing to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble soon to work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lo­cal 2 on op­er­a­tional re­forms needed to mod­ern­ize and con­tinue the ex­cel­lence of CFD.”

Kris­ten Ca­ban­ban, a spokesper­son for the city’s Of­fice of Bud­get and Man­age­ment, re­fused to say how the city would cover the $95 mil­lion cost of back pay at a time when the stay-at-home shut­down has al­ready blown a $700 mil­lion hole in Light­foot’s pre­car­i­ously bal­anced, 2020 bud­get.

The union also won in­creases in va­ca­tion days, hol­i­day and over­time pay and pro­mo­tional con­ces­sions. Lo­cal 2 also won more divers and strict guar­an­tees on dis­tri­bu­tion of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment. The $50 penalty for fail­ure to par­tic­i­pate in the city’s well­ness pro­gram would be waived.

It’s not sur­pris­ing Light­foot would cut a one-year deal with fire­fight­ers, in­stead of at­tempt­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a longer deal that gets her through the 2023 may­oral elec­tion.

Dur­ing a May 29 meet­ing in the mayor’s of­fice just hours be­fore down­town demon­stra­tions de­volved into loot­ing and may­hem, Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Pres­i­dent John Catan­zara said Light­foot told him she wanted to ne­go­ti­ate the retroac­tive pay por­tion of the po­lice con­tract “right away and get that off the fi­nan­cial books” this sum­mer.

“She said she was in a hole this year fi­nan­cially and ex­pects a hole in the bud­get again next year. So it’s eas­ier just to pack­age it all to­gether and, how­ever she’s gonna get rid of it, get rid of it all at once and not have to worry about that big num­ber down the road,” Catanazara said then.

Now, the FOP is the only city em­ployee union with­out a con­tract.

SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

The city has reached a one-year deal with its fire­fight­ers union.

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