JACKSONVILLE, FL – The city of Jacksonville has declared an impasse in its talks with the firefighter’s union, saying the union’s refusal to bargain about changes to pension benefits leaves it no choice.
That means the city has started down the path that could end with the City Council imposing pension changes on both firefighters and police officers, with whom the city was already at an impasse.
The move came as a bit of a surprise, because another meeting between the two parties was scheduled for the end of January. Although the city has only met twice to discuss the issue, it said in its impasse letter to the union it was clear that more meetings would not be beneficial.
“The city has provided the Local 122 ample time to consider and discuss its understanding and concerns of the sole city issue on the table — employee retirement benefits — and Local 122 has refused to consider or discuss that issue,” the letter said.
The union has long said it can’t negotiate pension benefits because of an agreement between the Police and Fire Pension Fund that enshrines what is owed through 2030. The city says bargaining over pensions is mandatory, pointing to case law and Public Employees Relations Commissions ruling supporting this position.
That basic disagreement has led to meetings that were mainly spent with both sides repeating their position. Talks with the police union ended with police union President Nelson Cuba leaving the table, calling the meetings a waste of time.
Fire union President Randy Wyse has been more circumspect, but in the last meeting rarely deviated from repeating the union’s stance. After that meeting, he said an impasse was likely, although the union would not declare it.
Still, he said Monday, the timing of the declaration surprised him, especially since the city still had not responded to a union proposal regarding disability insurance — the only non-pension issue on the table.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to get something done,” Wyse said.
With the city’s declaration, the state will now pick a slate of magistrates from which the two sides have to pick someone to hear the case.
Late last month, the city and police union agreed on a special magistrate, who will hold a hearing on the case by the end of February. The magistrate, Mark Lurie, will then issue a non-binding opinion; if either side disagrees with it, the issue goes before the City Council, which can impose terms.