After more than a year of back and forth negotiations, Monroe County commissioners on Wednesday night rejected a proposed contract that would have given county firefighters raises.
Commissioners cited the need for equity among all county employees, given current economic woes.
"Other county employees are not getting any raises, and that's a big part of this," Monroe County Fire Rescue Chief Jim Callahan said Thursday.
Raises are at the center of the contract dispute between Monroe County and its firefighters, and both sides are apparently refusing to budge.
After dozens of meetings in the past year, negotiations stalled and were declared at an impasse. Both sides pleaded their case to a special magistrate assigned by the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission. The magistrate hammered out a proposed three-year contract calling for step increases only -- no cost of living adjustment -- in years two and three, according to Assistant County Attorney Cynthia Hall, a negotiator for the county.
Union attorney Mark Floyd did not return a Citizen phone call Thursday.
Now that county commissioners have shot down the raises, the International Association of Firefighters 3909 union can either ratify the contract without the raises or reject it. The latter would require an immediate return to negotiations, Hall said.
There are 265 clauses on which the county and the union agreed, Hall said. For example, the county agreed to broaden how educational money is spent within the fire department, Hall said.
Annual salaries without benefits or overtime for firefighter/EMTs are $35,445 for starters, $42,678 at mid-level, $53,452 for 11 or more years of service, between $39,484 and $59,543 for lieutenants and between $55,990 and $84,317 for battalion chiefs.
Seventy percent of county firefighters don't live in Monroe County, Hall told commissioners.
"I think the message was abundantly clear that the county has a desire to treat all county employees equally and fairly while taking into consideration the tough economic times we are still in," Hall said. "I hope that's a point of view the union also considers."
Callahan said he wants the best for his firefighters.
"I'd like for them to have a long-range contract for stability, but I don't know what the solution is in this economic climate," Callahan said. "I want the best for them, naturally, but I have to look at the reality of the issue."
Commissioner Kim Wigington said the county supports its firefighters, but the issue is one of fairness and pay equity among all employees.
"They were asking for raises that other employees are not privileged to have," Wigington said. "I don't think it was equitable. It was disproportionate."