The Oklahoma City firefighters’ union has come to a possible agreement with the city in this year’s contract negotiations.
The firefighter’s union is the only city employee union that has yet to come to an agreement with the city for the current fiscal year. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Fraternal Order of Police have both had their agreements ratified by the Oklahoma City Council.
The city must present the union with a contract, at which point the union has 15 days to consider and vote on the proposal. If passed by the union, the contract receives the final green light from the City Council.
“We haven’t got it finalized yet,” said Phil Sipe, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 157, on Dec. 29. “We have a verbal agreement, but we have no signed tentative agreement at this time.”
The agreement would leave in place most of the provisions of the previous year’s contract and has no wage adjustments, Sipe said.
“It’s just a roll of the contract basically,” he said.
City Manager Jim Couch said he would not comment on the specifics of the possible agreement, but did say he was pleased with where the negotiations appear to be headed.
“I’m pleased with the progress we’re making, but I don’t think we’re officially there yet,” Couch said. “I think we’re close.”
Until the union’s membership votes on a contract and the contract is approved by council, nothing is official, Couch said, adding that he hopes a contract will be brought before the council this month.
The negotiations and contracts recently finalized by the other unions are for the current fiscal year, which began in July.
The reason for the drawn-out process comes down to one thing, according to Sipe: city revenue.
“We generally have an agreement before this period of time. It’s taken longer this year. This is not normal,” he said.
Because the city experienced a drastic shortfall in general fund revenue — one of the hallmarks of the economic recession experienced nationwide — it had to cut 29 firefighter positions and fund 45 existing firefighter positions with MAPS use-tax money, which in the past has gone toward capital improvements and equipment. Supporters of the MAPS 3 initiative also promised that the use-tax money would fund 10 firefighter positions and 20 police positions, but that money is now tied up in funding the 45 existing fire positions and 55 current police positions.
Initially, both sides had a number of things on the table during negotiations, Sipe said, but as the revenue picture worsened, the city asked for a number of concessions, and the process of coming to an agreement stalled.
However, city revenue has been up for the past few months, sometimes beating projections by double digits, Sipe said, giving the city a little breathing room and keeping firefighters from having to make major concessions.
“I think waiting this long has been to the mutual benefit of both parties,” Sipe said.
“Obviously, when revenue is improving, I think both sides want to wait and see how it works out over time.”
With the improved revenue, Sipe said he hopes that the city will switch the 45 positions currently being funded by the MAPS 3 use tax to being paid for by the general fund again and re-filling the 29 positions that were cut.
Although sales tax revenues are up, city leaders have attributed much of that to people having repairs done from the major spring hailstorm that battered the city. Both city employees and city leaders are watching revenue numbers.
“They are reluctant (to fund the positions through the general fund) because they’re not sure the outstanding revenue will continue through fiscal year,” Sipe said, adding that sales tax intake is at or above 2008-09 levels, when the positions were funded through the general fund. “Those budgetary problems are basically gone, because revenue is way, way up over the last six months.”
If everything goes as planned, this year’s IAFF contract should be wrapped up in about 30 days, Sipe said.
After that, talks will start on the 2011-12 contracts.