Union, negotitators discuss fate of SJ firefighters

The council voted 7-4 to ask voters to limit how much outside arbitrators can award police and firefighters in contract disputes.

August 4, 2010 6:24:00 PM PDT
The San Jose Firefighters Union and city negotiators go back behind closed doors to see if they can work out some kind of deal that would allow some if not all of the 49 laid off firefighters to be reinstated.

Negotiators for the firefighters union emerged from city hall shortly after four 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The city is asking that the union take San Jose's proposal for pay cuts directly to firefighters.

"It's almost a 9 percent reduction in pay and benefits, and ask them if we are willing to make that sacrifice so we can restore those service to the community," city chief negotiator Alex Gurza said.

The city wants the union to let its members vote.

The city says so far the union has offered up 3.5 percent in cuts amounting to $4.1 million in savings. The city says it needs 8.9 percent in concessions, or $10.6 million. That leaves a $6 million gap. The union says

The union is accusing the city of manipulating the numbers and not giving its proposal serious consideration.

"Something is really out of whack here and it really begins to look like politics and policy is overrunning public safety," Firefighter's Union president Randy Sekany said.

The tense negotiations come as the city council voted seven to four last night to put two ballot measures before voters in November. City leaders want the ability to control salaries and pension costs.

"Our pension costs have tripled over the last decade, even though we have 1,600 less employees and we are still making enormous payments for retirement," San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said.

The unions say going to voters at a time when they are still trying to negotiate makes them feel as if they are being doubled-crossed and it's not sitting well.

"This is not fair, it's not right way to do business. It's created a whole new challenge no doubt," Sekany said.

The city says the negotiations taking place now deal with short term solutions and the councilmember who proposed pension reform thinks the public is ready to support long term changes.

"Voter sentiments want pension reform. We're very confident this will pass and it's about time," City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio said.

Any pension reform would only impact new city hires. As for the firefighters, the union says it is meeting with the executive board on Tuesday and the board will decide at that time whether to take the city's full proposal for a full membership vote.


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