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Wauwatosa fire contract moves department closer to parity with others

Union members to pay more for insurance, pension

Nov. 2, 2011

The city and fire union have reached a new contract that should keep compensation costs flat through 2013.

Wauwatosa Professional Firefighters Association Local 1923 ratified the contract Monday and the Common Council unanimously followed suit Tuesday.

Union President Capt. Gary Webb did not divulge how the vote went among the membership, only that, "It passed."

In the last several months, the parties looked to be headed for binding arbitration after mediation had reached an impasse. At the 11th hour, union representatives told the city they wanted to give bargaining another try, City Administrator James Archambo said, giving the firefighters credit for starting the compromise that resulted in this contract.

The contract retroactively starts Jan. 1, 2011, and will be in effect through 2013. There is no pay increase for union members this year; 3 percent increases are set for each of the next two years.

Those wage increases will be offset by contributions to their health insurance premiums and pensions, which wasn't on the table with a previously proposed contract.

Since 100 percent of this group participates in the city's wellness program, employees will pay 5 percent of the premium in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013. Should an employee not take part in the wellness program, they would pay a higher percentage.

Fire union employees will contribute 3 percent of their wages to their pension in 2012 and whatever nonbargaining employees have to pay in 2013 - the percent changes annually; in 2011 it's 5.9 percent.

The decision to give bargaining a final shot came because "the membership wanted a contract, they wanted it settled and with this economy a flat contract was the best we could anticipate getting right now," Webb said.

From the union's perspective, they're looking at pay cuts. Each member will receive less in 2013 than they did in 2009, he said.

From the city's point of view, although it may take three years, the contract eventually puts the fire union on par with employee groups that saw the end of their bargaining capabilities when the state budget-repair bill went into effect, said Alderman Peter Donegan, chairman of the Employee Relations Committee.

"Frankly, I think we've taken a big step here," he said, adding that the fire union accounts for about 25 percent of the city's compensation costs.

Since Wauwatosa was one of the first communities to go through bargaining after the budget-repair bill, Donegan believes other municipalities will look to the new contract as they sit down for negotiations.

In total about 22 changes were made - from retirement benefits to vacation staffing policies - that should provide efficiencies and cost-savings, Archambo said.

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