City Strikes Deal With Firefighter Union

Mayor Also Announces Contract With Skilled Workers, Deputy City Attorneys, Lifeguards

San Diego firefighters are getting a raise, but not until 2019.

It's one of the terms of a four-year tentative agreement the city reached with its firefighter union. Firefighters could see more immediate increases to their pay through another benefit in the new contract - a lower threshold for when they hit overtime.

The city also announced deals with its skilled workers union, the union representing Deputy District Attorneys and lifeguards.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the firefighter agreement brings all city employees under contract extensions that uphold pension reform, approved by voters in 2012. Known as Prop B, the measure shifted most city employees from a guaranteed benefit pension to a more 401k style retirement plan. Prop B left all new hire firefighters without a defined death and disability benefit.

"These agreements are fair, and they're a good deal for our taxpayers and our neighborhoods," Faulconer said. "These agreements invest in the dedicated and hardworking city employees that I am so proud of as mayor."

Union President Alan Arrollado said the new contract doesn't deal directly with pension reform. 

"I think it's pretty clear to most people that the mayor and I disagree on pension reform," Arrollado said. "However, the professionalism of the mayor and with the honesty and dialogue we were able to have, reasonable people can disagree. So we set aside the issue of pension reform and worked on this deal for several weeks. It's a fair deal for both the employees and the citizens."

Terms of the new contract include increases to uniform allowances, a 6.6 percent raise by 2020, parental leave and a shift in overtime calculations.

Previously firefighters had to work 212 hours in a 28-day cycle to receive pay and a half. Now that threshold has been knocked back considerably to 56 hours a week.

Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said calculating the overtime pay has been a challenge for payroll staff, and overtime isn't always welcome by firefighters, especially in a department that has been understaffed for 10 years.

"Every fire department I'm aware of has a constant staffing responsibility, meaning when someone calls in sick or is on vacation, or injured or whatever it may be, we have to fill behind them," Fennessy said. "It's vitally important that we show up for these emergencies fully staffed.

In 2014, the city's top recipients of overtime pay were almost all firefighters, a review of city payroll data shows. Many of the top OT recipients made more than six figures on top of their base pay for the extra work. 

The city is also changing the way the fire department does vacations, which a mayoral spokesman said is expected to about even out, if not reduce, the total amount of OT. No longer can firefighters store up three weeks of vacation, and take it all at once during the summer, leaving a staffing shortfall.

The firefighter contract is tentative, pending City Council approval in coming weeks.

The new contract leaves out death and disability benefits for new hire firefighters. Faulconer said an agreement to fix that issue is coming to the City Council on June 14.

Sergeant Ed Harris of the San Diego Fire Department said he's concerned about the fiscal impact of the OT.

“You know these are the type of sweetheart deals that got us in trouble in the past and we can’t ignore history," Harris said.

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