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Report Weighs Firefighters’ Contract

Claremont — A fact finder’s report made public Monday on stalled negotiations between the city and the firefighter’s union appears to have sought a middle ground between the two parties, especially on the issues of wage increases and health insurance costs.

Brian Rapp, president of the 13-member firefighters’ union, said Monday evening the union has met and talked about the report but has not taken a vote on whether to support it.

“We are still looking it over and figuring out if it will work for us,” Rapp said. “We didn’t get everything but it is time to get something done.”

The union, like police and public works employees in the city, has been working without a contract since 2009.

City Manager Guy Santagate said the report would go to the council for an up or down vote.

“Mary (finance director Walter) will have to run those numbers so our presentation will show the financial impact to the city,” Santagate said, adding that they have not had enough time to thoroughly analyze the report, which was received 10 days ago.

Fact finder Gary Altman, who both parties agreed to hire, made recommendations on nine separate issues including overtime, vacancies, hours of work, vacation, personal days, health insurance and wages, with the last two issues seen as the main reason there is no contract.

Currently, firefighters do not contribute to health insurance premiums under a plan called Blue Choice Tier 2. If an employee selects a more expensive plan, they have to pay the additional premium. The city proposed a less expensive HMO coverage through insurer Matthew Thornton and proposed paying 100 percent of the premiums this year and 95 and 90 percent in subsequent years. Employees who stayed with Blue Choice would have to pay the difference in premium over the Thornton plan. There would also be cash benefits to union members who chose the Thornton plan.

The union wanted to keep Blue Choice and have the city pay 100 percent through March of 2014, then 95 percent and 90 percent in the two following years.

Altman recommended keeping the current contract through this year with the city paying 92.5 percent in 2014 and 88.5 percent in 2015 for the Blue Choice plan. For Matthew Thornton, the percentages are 97.5 percent and 95 percent, respectively, along with cash benefits of $300 in 2014 and $400 in 2015. New hires would be required to sign up for the Thornton plan at 90 percent coverage.

“The city states that it can no longer afford to pay 100 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums and that to avoid layoffs and cuts in city services, it must also look to provide more affordable health insurance plans and for employees to pay some portion of their health insurance premium costs,” the report states.

The union counters by saying the city’s offer “will result in drastic cost increases for members of the bargaining unit,” if they stay with Blue Choice Tier 2.

“The union states that employees who continue with Tier-2 coverage, by paying 95 percent, will essentially have to use their entire salary increase to pay the increases in premiums,” wrote Altman.

On wages, Altman proposes a 2 percent increase when the contract is ratified, 3 percent in 2014 and 3 percent in 2015 with step advancement each year. Both the union and city had the same percentages, but the union wanted an April 1, 2013 effective date and the city wanted the increase effective upon ratification.

Altman rejected union proposals to increase personal days from 2 to 4 days a year and allow for 24-hour shifts.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.