SJ firefighters agree on concessions to save jobs

March 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
There's a major breakthough in San Jose's $110 million budget crisis, but the biggest advancement may be in a new tone in labor negotiations between unions and city leaders. San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 says it is offering the mayor and city manager everything they are asking for in terms of concessions to help save jobs and maintain city services.

President of the firefighters union Jeff Welch said, "We have taken leaps and bounds to get here. We are recognizing the seriousness of this issue and we're recognizing that we want to get the deal done and get the deal done now."

The proposed settlement from the union offers up the 10 percent concession in pay and benefits which has been a contentious element to almost every bargaining agreement for the last two years. The firefighters are also proposing a two-tier retirement system for new hires that sparks pension reform many are demanding. It also provides the city with health care savings and the union is willing to reduce the number of personnel on trucks from the minimum now of five to four. Local 230 says that concession itself could save the city nearly $6 million.

In the past, a union proposal usually brings with it the back and forth of disputed numbers and different takes on the actual cost savings in the proposal. This time however, city leaders are welcoming the proposal with upbeat enthusiasm.

While Mayor Chuck Reed says the details have to be worked out, his reaction Tuesday afternoon was one of gratitude. Mayor Reed said, "I appreciate their leadership. I appreciate that they understand the enormity of the problem we face and this is a very substantive proposal."

The next step is to have the director from the Office of Human Relations sign off on the agreement. Alex Gurza is the city's chief labor negotiator and he told ABC 7, "We're very optimistic that we are going to be able to work out an agreement with the firefighters union."

The two sides meet again Thursday afternoon.

Union Rally

At the corner of 4th and San Fernando Streets in Downtown San Jose, unions showed their strength and commitment to protect the labor movement. This all comes as Wisconsin's governor continues to try to cut collective bargaining rights and the unions' power.

Chants like, "When the unions were great, the country was great" filled the street.

Many of San Jose's union members attended the rally. The city is relying on its 11 unions to help bridge its $110 million budget deficit. After the city's firefighters union agreed to big concessions, Reed said he hopes other unions will follow suit.

Police Officers Association President George Beattie said he is meeting regularly with the city and is willing to "explore all options with regard to our wages and benefits package." The POA could lose 349 officers if no concessions are made.

If you would like to view the firefighters' proposal in detail, here is the link: Firefighters' proposal PDF

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