COLUMBUS, OH – Columbus firefighters recently rejected a three-year contract proposal that would have given them raises of 3.5 percent in the first two years and 3 percent in the final year.
Union members mainly objected to lower pay differentials for paramedics and increases in health-insurance premiums.
More than two-thirds of the members rejected the contract, according to three firefighters, including a captain. It was a surprise to many at City Hall who thought the two sides were in agreement after nearly a year of negotiations.
The existing contract for the city’s approximately 1,550 firefighters expired more than a year ago.
The proposed contract would have required firefighters to pay up to 12 percent of their health-care premiums, up from a cap of 10 percent. Firefighters said a family would pay $175 to $225 per month for health insurance.
The city and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67 are expected to meet with an independent fact-finder next week. That person then will issue a report on the contract proposal.
Unless both sides agree on that report, the contract will go to arbitration.
Nichole Brandon, the city’s human-resources director, said she is confident that both sides can reach an agreement. Brandon declined to further comment.
Joe Richard, president of the firefighters union, said he has raised the union’s concerns with city officials and also was looking forward to an agreement.
“These things have a process, and we will get these issues worked out,” he said.
Richard, a battalion chief, became union president this year, replacing Deputy Chief Jack Reall, who stepped down after serving in the office for 14 years.
In the past decade under Reall, firefighters and the city reached agreements in two of three contracts without a third-party mediator’s involvement.
Three firefighters spoke to The Dispatch about the contract proposal’s terms on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from supervisors. Two of them said the city was trying to reduce spending when it comes to pay differential for firefighters who have a paramedic’s certification card, or P-card.
The existing contract adds an 8 percent pay differential for firefighters who have a P-card regardless of whether they perform paramedic duties. The city is seeking to reduce that differential to 6 percent.
Several supervisors with the cards were performing other emergency tasks but still were getting the extra pay.
Another firefighter, a captain, said that reduction, coupled with fears that unclear language in the contract would allow the city to fluctuate health-insurance costs each month, led union members to overwhelmingly reject the contract.