CORPUS CHRISTI City officials are tired of stalled negotiations with the firefighters’ union continuing indefinitely with no signs of progress, so they’ve take a drastic step to move the process forward.
City Council approved a resolution Tuesday to cancel the collective bargaining agreement between the city and its 414 employees covered by the contract.
“I’m hopeful that the fire union and their negotiation team will want to come forward and have a conversation and get back to the negotiation table,” Mayor Nelda Martinez said. “We’re not at the negotiation table now — we’re in the courts.”
Carlos Torres, president of the Corpus Christi Professional Firefighters Association, told the Caller-Times on Tuesday night he had yet to be told by a city official the contract had been canceled.
“We got notice by either being at the council meeting — which I was not — or from the news,” he said, later adding, “They totally disregarded notifying the most important party and that’s the party they’re trying to negotiate with.”
The move came after more than three hours behind closed doors during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that included two other items on the executive session agenda. The two sides have been bargaining since April, and city staff did not feel significant progress was possible.
“Something had to give so we could get to a point where we have a fresh start and have an opportunity to get to a final contract and move forward and finish this,” Martinez said.
Because the firefighters’ job is one of public safety, state law prohibits them from striking and the city from locking them out, City Manager Ron Olson said.
Before Tuesday’s vote, City Council members and other city officials were unable to comment on the negotiations due to a clause in the old collective bargaining agreement — once that contract was voided, details emerged about members’ opinions on the union’s stance.
Councilman David Loeb said the proposal of a $31.8-million increase would be, on average, more than $25,0000 extra in annual compensation per employee. Funding such an increase without cutting other departments would mean a tax increase of nearly $100 annually on a $100,000 house — an increase that would push the city’s tax rate above the maximum allowable rate, Olson said.
“Another 16 percent on top of (taxpayers) is enormous,” Councilman Chad Magill said.
Torres and the union are disputing those numbers, calling them a “gross misrepresentation” in a news release, and later explaining that figure likely includes the union getting everything it asked for in the negotiations.
“That’s never happened in the history of collective bargaining over the last 30 years,” he said.
Firefighters have been working under the previous contract that expired this summer, and would continue doing so until a compromise was reached.
Olson said that setup was unconstitutional because it required the city to pay “an unknown amount of money for an unknown amount of time.”
Because the collective bargaining agreement has been canceled, the city can increase firefighters’ pay by 1.5 percent like it has for other employees — an expected move.
What happens next will depend on the union. City officials are offering a temporary collective bargaining agreement that would allow firefighters to keep their health care plans while contract negotiations continue, but if that proposal is rejected, firefighters would see their health care plans change to the standard city employee plan.
The move will likely result in another lawsuit filed against the city by the union, city officials expect, but Olson added that hopefully would lead to meaningful negotiations.
“We believe it will force (negotiations) into meaningful court action that will ultimately result in a contract, as opposed to circular legal action that never ends,” Olson said.
Torres did not know exactly how the union would be responding, but said the move “definitely set some things in motion.”
Their attorney is expected to call the city’s attorney tomorrow morning.