Following a lengthy negotiation process, firefighters in Forest Park have a new contract that includes retroactive salary increases, tighter restrictions on sick-time and calls for a greater contribution from employees toward health care costs.

Under the new deal individual firefighters will see a bump in pay that varies with their experience. But those employees who joined in recent years can expect a dramatic increase, thanks in large part to two years worth of retroactive pay.

The contract calls for 3 percent raises in the first two years of the deal, and 3.25 percent raises for the last two years of the agreement. Steps are also built into the scale in addition to the annual percentage increases, and reward employees for experience gained on the job.

Under the new contract, a firefighter hired in 2006 will quickly see their pay increase from approximately $42,600 to more than $62,000, an increase of more than 45 percent.

The new contract is retroactive to May 1, 2006, and will expire April 30, 2010. With the council’s unanimous approval of the deal Monday night, the village will begin issuing retroactive pay increases, according to Village Administrator Mike Sturino.

“I’m pleased because clearly the village council and the firefighters union have agreed that this is a fair contract to firefighters and taxpayers alike,” Sturino said.

Before the previous contract expired in 2006, the basic salary for a new firefighter was $41,395. Clauses in the new deal boost that figure retroactively so that by May of 2007 rookie firefighters start at $45,946 a year.

In May of 2008 that figure will increase again to a starting salary of $47,440.

Also this year, firefighters with two years of experience will earn $62,122 annually, according to the new contract. Excluding the department’s step program, the salary for firefighters with two years on the job is $7,300 more than what the previous contract paid.

With five years on the job a firefighter will now take home slightly more than $73,000.

As of May 2008, a fire lieutenant will make $83,995.

The amount that firefighters pay into their health insurance coverage will be increased. Under the new contract, firefighters will pay 10 percent of the premiums for HMO coverage and 12 percent of the village’s cost for PPO coverage.

Sturino said he is attempting to make health insurance contributions the same for all village employees.

“When I started here there were several different labor groups that had different payments for the health insurance, the employee share, and so it’s not just easier for bookkeeping, but it’s out of a sense of equity and fairness that everyone should be paying the same for the same benefit,” Sturino said.

Now all village employees, except for Public Works employees, will be paying the same 10 or 12 percent of their premiums for health insurance. Public Works employees, who are members of the Teamsters Union, are covered by that group’s health plan and are not part of the village’s health insurance plan.

The stipend for firefighters who are certified emergency medical technicians will be removed from the base salary as of May 1, 2008, and will instead receive a flat $1,000 annual bonus for EMT certification. This means that the stipend will not compound annually as it did under the old contract when the stipend was part of the salary.

All 21 Forest Park firefighters have either EMT or paramedic certifications, according to Chief Steve Glinke.

Phil Chiappetta, the vice president for Local 2753, declined to comment on the agreement.

Also with the new contract, time off from work as regulated by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act leave must be taken concurrently, not consecutively, with other leave benefits. No more than 90 days of sick leave can be accumulated, according to the contract. When a firefighter retires, no more than 45 percent of their sick days can be converted into a cash bonus.

The agreement was hammered out after years of negotiations between the village and the union. Talks were delayed by attorneys on both sides who had difficulty matching their schedules, said Glinke. He estimated that negotiating sessions took place approximately once every three months.