Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters could receive 2 percent raise

September 13, 2011

By Caleb Heeringa

Eastside Fire & Rescue staffers would receive a 2 percent raise every year through 2014 under a labor agreement that will go before the agency’s board Sept. 19.

Craig Hooper, president of IAFF 2878, the firefighters union that also represents battalion chiefs and office staffers, said the 2 percent wage increase garnered the support of about 70 percent of union members. The EFR board must approve the agreement before it takes effect.

Lee Soptich

EFR Chief Lee Soptich confirmed that the new labor contract — technically an extension of the old contract — contains automatic wage increases, but declined to comment on the specifics until it came before the board.

The contract had called for wage increases to be determined by comparing EFR firefighters’ salaries to those of neighboring departments and averaging the numbers out. In past years that has led to wage hikes as large as 3 or 4 percent. With the recession squeezing the budgets of EFR’s partner cities — Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend — the union agreed to forgo that comparison process the last two years. Wages were frozen in 2010 and tied to the cost of living in 2011, meaning a one-fifth of 1 percent increase.

Fire administration officials warned Sammamish representatives earlier this year that the union may seek to “recapture” some of the wage increases delayed due to the recession.

Hooper said the board came to the union to offer the 2 percent increases for the next three years. Though it’s not as big of a wage increase as the union was getting before the recession and likely isn’t as large as it could be if they had used the normal comparison system, Hooper said 2 percent is a good compromise.

“If we had done (the comparison system) we probably would have come out a little bit higher,” he said. “But we’re satisfied with (2 percent) based on what’s going on in the economy.”

The union also agreed to extend the existing labor agreement, which expires this year, rather than start from scratch on a new document. Hooper had been hopeful that they could renegotiate firefighters’ work schedules as part of this agreement, but said the union put the issue aside for now in hopes of simplifying the process.

The department uses the so-called Modified Detroit model — one day on, one off, one on, one off, one on and four off — but many in the agency would prefer to switch to a schedule that allows them to work two 24-hour shifts back to back in exchange for four days off more frequently.

Hooper and other firefighters have argued that going back and forth from on days to off days creates irregular sleeping patterns, leading to more fatigue than one 48-hour shift with some naps during slow times.

Hooper said it became clear during negotiations that getting the board to agree to the schedule change would be an arduous process, possibly stretching the labor talks into next year, involving professional arbitrators and making it difficult for the board to put together a 2012 budget. The union will continue to push for the schedule change outside of the labor agreement, he said.

“It sort of convoluted everything else,” Hooper said. “We were trying to keep this agreement simple and save both sides the money and time and meetings.”

Caleb Heeringa: 392-6434, ext. 247, or cheeringa@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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