After a 4-1 vote last week, the village council approved a new contract for Forest Park firefighters, who unanimously agreed to a pay freeze in 2010 “understanding that times are tough,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian.
Commissioner Martin Tellalian was the sole member of the board who voted against the contract, noting 5 to 10 percent salary raises that were given to nonunion staff members a few months ago.
“When you’re negotiating with a union body, it’s very difficult to be saying that we don’t have the money and then turnaround and give our guys raises,” Tellalian said. “And they were very good raises in these difficult economic times.”
Gillian, however, said the increases were salary adjustments, which are handed out when inequities are found. In this case, some of the lower ranking workers in the police and fire departments were starting to make almost as much as the chiefs, who are nonunion and not guaranteed to receive raises in a contract like most of the union employees. Gillian said that he, too, received a pay increase, but noted that he was hired at a reduced salary.
“The bottom line and the reality is that we got an exceptionally good deal with the firefighters,” Gillian said. “The plan was not altered at all because I gave them the ability to come back.”
Tim Conrad, president of Forest Park Fire Fighters Association Local 2753, which represents 21 firefighters, said they did go back to the table after the pay increases, but he couldn’t remember the specific terms at that point.
“I wouldn’t say it was a big issue,” Conrad said. “Sure, it had an impact. But at the meetings, things get explained and talked about. It’s all part of the negotiations.”
Overall, Tellalian said he was concerned about how the nonunion salary hikes could accelerate expenses and pay rates for other union contracts in the future.
In the end, the two-year agreement calls for no salary changes the first year, a 1 percent wage increase beginning April 30, 2011, followed by a 2 percent pay raise starting the next day.
“Instead of getting our raise May 30 of this year, we are helping out the village by pushing it back,” Conrad said.
Both sides cited the economy as the reason for the pay freeze in year one.
Negotiations, which began earlier this year, went surprisingly smoothly, compared to years past, Conrad said. In fact, no lawyers were present at any of the meetings, except to look over the final draft of the agreement.
“Both sides were very amicable,” Conrad said. “We were able to sit down at the table and just talk like gentlemen instead of both sides coming in swinging in the boxing ring. It went a lot better than it has been in previous negotiations.”
The starting salary for Local 2753 members is currently $49,000 for a first-year firefighter and $87,000 for a lieutenant.
The collective bargaining agreement covers May 1, 2010 to April 30, 2012.