By: Debjani Mukherjee
For the Daily
Published January 20th, 2010
In an effort to cope with the city’s mounting budget deficit, Ann Arbor firefighters will take a four percent wage reduction, according to their new contract, which was passed at last night’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting.
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City Council and the Ann Arbor firefighter station — Firefighters Local 693 — came to an agreement on the contract last Wednesday, after weeks of negotiations. The new contract, which had previously been ratified by the Ann Arbor Firefighters Union, is effective through June 30, 2010.
Though the contract guarantees that there won’t be any layoffs during the period covered by the contract, the pay cuts didn’t escape criticism from the union.
“We cannot take any more pay cuts,” Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor Firefighters Union told The Michigan Daily in an interview last week, after the agreement was reached.
The contract also includes a 1-percent increase in employee pension contributions and a 50 percent reduction in the city’s contribution to employee health care reimbursement accounts.
The union membership has asked the City Council to also take a pay cut, and in response, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje wrote a check to the city for 3 percent of his salary of $42,432. Many City Council members followed his lead, offering to write checks for the same amount or less. Three percent of each City Council member’s salary amounts to about $450.
“I think we need to respect what the fire department has done,” Hieftje said at last night’s meeting.
Though the city’s firefighters received a cut in their salaries, they were able to maintain their current health benefits.
City Administrator Roger Fraser said he was disappointed the firefighters union wasn’t willing to accept reductions in its health insurance packages, as other unions in the city have done.
“Some of our folks have been contributing in ways others haven’t,” Fraser said at the meeting last night.
Negotiations for the contract that will succeed the current contract when it expires at the end of June will start in a few weeks. The Ann Arbor fire station faces the possibility of steep budget reductions.
Schroeder said that Tom Crawford, chief financial officer of the city of Ann Arbor, said 11 percent of the station’s budget — anywhere from $1.4 to $2.4 million — needs to be cut by July 1, 2010, which could result in the station being forced to layoff 14 firefighters.
“We’ve put a bandage on the problem until July,” Schroeder said. “We face a daunting task as to how to overcome this.”
The firefighters union is also worried about complying with federal standards, as Local 693 is already currently operating below the minimum number of firefighters mandated by the National Fire Protection Association.
The union hopes to involve the University in looking for ways to find a solution to its financial problems, as the school inhabits a large area of the city, Schroeder said.
Hieftje said the ratification and approval of the contract doesn’t completely solve the budget deficit problem the city is currently facing, though it is a step in the right direction. Other ways to finance the public safety budget are currently being evaluated.
“This is a time of shared sacrifice,” City Councilmember Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4), said at last night’s meeting.