Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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Vancouver and two unions stalled on contracts

City wants to hold line; firefighters want big raise

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International Association of Firefighters, Local 452

• Firefighter’s offer: The most recent offer by the firefighters calls for an 8.2 percent pay increase (6.2 percent overall increase, plus a 2 percent cost-of-living-adjustment) in 2010, and a 2 percent COLA in 2011. City human resources estimates that would cost $3.2 million.

• Vancouver’s offer: Vancouver’s most recent offer to firefighters was for no raises and called for raising firefighters’ contributions from 10 to 15 percent of their dependents’ health care premiums (at a cost of about

$158 a month), which would save an estimated $200,047.

• Compensation: The average firefighter with 10 years of experience and family insurance coverage earns a base salary of $75,336 a year (not including overtime, differential or specialty pay), and receives $15,991 in health benefits (and pays $696 a year for them).

Police Commanders, Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 11

• Commanders’ offer: Maintain status quo of lieutenant pay at 24.5 percent above sergeant, and commander pay of 10 percent above lieutenant; which would cost the city $182,357. Those salaries are tied to contracts negotiated by the rank-and-file Police Guild.

• Vancouver’s offer: Make the pay differential between lieutenants and commanders flexible to reflect no pay increases. Ultimately, the union would be asked to pay 15 percent of dependents’ health care premiums (at a cost of about $158 a month). The offer would save an estimated $9,361.


International Association of Firefighters, Local 452

• Firefighter's offer: The most recent offer by the firefighters calls for an 8.2 percent pay increase (6.2 percent overall increase, plus a 2 percent cost-of-living-adjustment) in 2010, and a 2 percent COLA in 2011. City human resources estimates that would cost $3.2 million.

• Vancouver's offer: Vancouver's most recent offer to firefighters was for no raises and called for raising firefighters' contributions from 10 to 15 percent of their dependents' health care premiums (at a cost of about

$158 a month), which would save an estimated $200,047.

• Compensation: The average firefighter with 10 years of experience and family insurance coverage earns a base salary of $75,336 a year (not including overtime, differential or specialty pay), and receives $15,991 in health benefits (and pays $696 a year for them).

Police Commanders, Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 11

• Commanders' offer: Maintain status quo of lieutenant pay at 24.5 percent above sergeant, and commander pay of 10 percent above lieutenant; which would cost the city $182,357. Those salaries are tied to contracts negotiated by the rank-and-file Police Guild.

• Vancouver's offer: Make the pay differential between lieutenants and commanders flexible to reflect no pay increases. Ultimately, the union would be asked to pay 15 percent of dependents' health care premiums (at a cost of about $158 a month). The offer would save an estimated $9,361.

• Compensation: The average Vancouver Police Commander with 10 years of service and family insurance coverage earns a base salary of $112,908 a year (not including overtime or differential pay), and receives $16,023 in health benefits (and pays $732 a year for them).

-- Source: Vancouver Human Resources

• Compensation: The average Vancouver Police Commander with 10 years of service and family insurance coverage earns a base salary of $112,908 a year (not including overtime or differential pay), and receives $16,023 in health benefits (and pays $732 a year for them).

— Source: Vancouver Human Resources

The city of Vancouver has reached an impasse in labor negotiations with the Police Command and Firefighter unions, with both cases set to be heard by a state arbitrator.

In both situations, the city and the unions have been unable to come to an agreement on terms of salary and benefits — union proposals would cost the city money; the city offers include no wage increase for workers and a hike in their benefit costs.

The last offer by the 171- member Firefighters Union would include an 8.2 percent wage increase immediately and another 2 percent hike in 2011 and cost Vancouver $3.2 million; the eight commanders and lieutenants in the Police Command union asked for the status quo, which would cost Vancouver about $182,000 over two years.

Both sides can change their proposals at any time before the arbitration date. The Police Command arbitration is set for Thursday; a date is yet to be set for the Firefighters Union.

Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said Tuesday that both of the union offers are not tenable in terms of the city’s budget, which saw more than $14 million in cuts from the general fund in 2010. They included the closure of Fire Station 6 and a reduction of police and fire ranks.

“It is inconsistent with city’s current financial condition,” Holmes said.

Firefighter Union President Mark Johnston declined to comment on his union’s request for a raise at the same time that a fire station was shuttered.

“The Local 452 isn’t closing anything,” he said. “The city (council) has the ability to institute a Business and Occupation tax and collect $10 million a year. They have a number of options that for policy reasons they’re not using.”

The council and Holmes have repeatedly indicated a distaste for the B&O tax, and have not voted to bring it back since it was eliminated in the mid-1990s.

Johnston added: “Just because you ask for something doesn’t mean you get it, and the process is still playing out.”

In their last contract, the rank-and-file firefighters were the first city union to forgo a cost-of-living increase, saving Vancouver $700,000.

In Washington, public safety unions are forbidden to go on strike, meaning that if the two sides are unable to reach an agreement through mediation, the negotiations are settled by an independent state arbitrator. The arbitrator’s decision is binding and cannot be contested by the city or union.

The arbitrator looks at cost of living, as well as a comparison of wages and conditions of departments of similar size on the West Coast. The city’s ability to pay is not considered in the arbitration process.

Johnston said Tuesday that he’s still hopeful the two sides can come to an agreement before arbitration, so that both the city and the union — instead of an arbitrator — have a say in the resolution.

“These are all still negotiations that are ongoing,” Johnston said. “Nothing’s been set in stone yet. We still have plenty of room to offer proposals and counterproposals.”

Arbitration also marks the first time both sides can discuss particulars in the press, but both Holmes and Johnston said they didn’t want to say much and chose their words cautiously. Mike Whitney, shop steward for the Police Commanders, did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday.

The state Public Employee Relations Commission, which handles arbitration, is backlogged with more cases than ever, as unions and cash-strapped cities butt heads over compensation, Johnston noted.

Holmes said that should the arbitrator award wage or benefit increases to the unions, the city council will likely have to have a policy discussion about where further cuts would come from.

He added that part of the city’s legislative agenda for 2011 is to ask that state labor law be changed so the government’s ability to pay becomes part of what an arbitrator can consider.

“When there’s a detachment from the issues … it begins to encroach on the council’s policy role of where they’re going to spend scarce resources,” he said.

Vancouver’s contract with the International Association of Firefighters, Local 452 expired Dec. 31, 2009. The other contract, with the Police Commanders, Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 11 ended Dec. 31, 2008.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.

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