MUSKEGON, MI – The city of Muskegon and its firefighters’ union have all but resolved a longstanding dispute that had both sides at odds over firefighter benefits and department manpower for more than a year.
Both Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson and IAFF Local #370 President Chris Drake confirmed on Thursday that they have been negotiating on a new contract over the summer. Drake said those negotiations have been amicable and favorable for both sides.
That means, by all accounts, that the city will keep its fire department intact instead of dissolving the 100-year-old department as planned.
City leaders had been in talks to contract fire service out to Muskegon Heights. Peterson said he hasn’t officially rescinded that initial offer, but has been in contact with Muskegon Heights City Manager Jake Eckholm to let him know that keeping an in-house fire service was more than likely.
On Thursday, the city of Muskegon posted a job opening for a deputy director of fire services that would oversee the fire department and report to Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Lewis. The position is a non-union position with an annual salary ranging from $73,008.47 to $91,283.20.
The posting will remain on the city website for a period of 20 days. You can find the posting here.
In the near future, Peterson said the city plans to post job openings for 13 new firefighters, another clear sign that things have been resolved.
“We feel like enough progress has been made that we can get the (hiring) process moving,” Peterson. “We felt all along that if we could find a way to make it sustainable, we could and should have our own (fire department).
“I think we came to a better understanding of what we both saw were the long term realities of what the department should look like.”
Drake said both sides came to the table after a year of infighting to “do what was best for the citizens of this community.”
A formal contract agreement has not been finalized, voted on by the union or introduced to the Muskegon City Commission, but Peterson and Drake said they are happy with the nuts and bolts of the agreement.
Peterson said he expects to have a contract ready for the commission by October. That includes any concessions the city and firefighters may have had made.