OMAHA (KPTM) – The city is closer to finalizing a new contract with the Firefighters' Union. City council members said Tuesday in a public meeting that the new contract should save the pension fund about $822 million over the next 50 years.
Firefighter wages will increase an average of 1.6 percent every year through 2014. But they will also have to contribute more to their pension fund—about $1,300 a year.
And to receive maximum pension benefits firefighters will have to work 30 years instead of 25. Also, the retirement age will go up from 45 years old to 55 years old.
Details of the revised contract came out in Tuesday's public city council meeting. But before then, it had been years of negotiating, but never agreeing on a union contract.
Media has been following the developments and so has the public.
"I ask that this council take the next step in bringing these last several years of acrimony to a close by approving this level of agreement," President of the Omaha Professional Firefighters' Association, Steve LeCLair.
City council members anticipated a long debate Tuesday. The discussions were long. As far as rebuttals—there were none mainly because people just want the council to approve the new contract.
"If the city council does not agree to the staffing terms that I've just described you don't have a contract," lawyer and the city's contract negotiator, Mark McQueen said.
Others who attended spoke out in support.
"Your school tax, your city tax, your county tax, your OPPD tax, your MUD—all these people are paying all this cost without knowing where it comes from and where it goes," Mark Browne with Nebraska Tax Payers For Freedom, said.
Others mildly supported the contracts, but were not completely sold.
"I just think the community needs more time to absorb it because it has been such a decisive issue for so long," Barton Bonn said. "It's driven people against the fire department where they shouldn't be."
But council member Jean Stothert, who has been working with council members Tom Mulligan and Chris Jerram to revise this contract, said the city is losing money everyday the contract goes without approval.
"For those who came in today and said ‘well if you take this out and that out then we might be for it' we're done negotiating. We now have an agreement. So we can do two things. We can approve it or we can reject it and go to court," Stothert said.
This will delay the process.
"And without a contract you don't have a pension reform of any type," McQueen told City Council.
Firefighters have been working without a contract since 2007.
In 2008, the union rejected then—mayor Mike Fahey's proposal that would have given them more money and lower pension contributions than the contract the union recently agreed to.
Firefighters took their case to the Commission of Industrial Relations, which gave them raises and benefits for 2009 and 2010.
Last year Omaha mayor Jim Suttle reached an agreement with the union, but council members voted against it.
They've been renegotiating with union ever since.
Stothert said City Council will vote on the contract next Tuesday. If approved, the contract expires in 2014. They will have to renegotiate a new contract around this same time next year.
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