FRESNO, CA – Thursday was to be the day the city of Fresno imposed its last, best and final offer on the city Firefighters union. Among other things it called for firefighters to pay more for their health insurance and retirement benefits. But firefighters note they’ve already made more than $13 million in concessions in recent years, to “save” the city. Some are now wondering if the Mayor’s repeated claims the city was “teetering on the brink of bankruptcy” of bankruptcy were real.
Firefighter Devin McGuire asked the city council, “How do you negotiate in good faith when you keep finding money you tell everybody you don’t have.”
They pointed to Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s claim the city would go bankrupt if it didn’t privatize residential garbage collection. When voters rejected the idea, the city survived, and has hired new department heads and proposed raises for many but still expects concessions from firefighters to balance the budget.
Firefighter Lee Sharp told the council these additional concessions are painful.
“So when you do these concessions we’re just not giving it up, their families are giving it up. I don’t understand why food can be taken off of our table, and shoes can be taken off of our kids’ feet and you sit up there and give raises and you let other raises for city officials.”
Firefighter George Arthur questioned the city’s logic of balancing the budget on the assumption city workers will make more concessions. “Nobody’s going to argue that in times of need everybody needs to step up, the argument would be those times aren’t still here. We don’t still have that fiscal emergency looming over our head and we need to realize your workers are not the band aid to fix the city’s financial issues and it’s time that we realize we are negotiated employees, we are not a revenue stream for the city.”
After an afternoon of negotiations the city modified its concessions, and the firefighter’s union representative Pete Flores promised to put them to the members.
“This document is a continuous good faith effort to make sure that we try to reach an agreement. This is something we believe would be acceptable to both sides.”
The union members will vote on July 7th and July 9th. Council Member Oliver Baines made the motion to extend the deadline, but made it clear the city expects a decision by July 10th. “If the association fails to ratify the associations offer the city shall have a hearing on July 10th 8:30 AM to consider implementation of the city’s last best offer.”
After the vote the mayor’s office issued a press release that read: “…we received an offer from the leadership of the Fire Fighters’ union that included some important compromises for both the City and the union. The City Council voted today to accept the offer, should it be passed by the members of the union. We understand the union is scheduled to vote on this agreement in early July. We encourage the members to ratify the agreement so we can continue to move forward together to serve the residents of Fresno.”
There’s no guarantee the rank and file firefighters will accept the new deal, which still requires them to make concessions to the city.