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Claremont Firefighters On Verge of Contract

Claremont — Brian Rapp, president of the city’s firefighters union, said Thursday the union’s acceptance of a fact finder’s report means firefighters will soon have a new three-year contract, the first agreement since March 2009.

In exchange for paying a portion of health insurance premiums — a first for the union — firefighters will receive an immediate 2 percent pay increase, followed by 3 percent in April 2014 and another 3 percent in 2015. “It’s a done deal,” Rapp said.

There remains, however, one outstanding issue to be resolved. There is a difference in the report adopted by the union on Wednesday night and the one the City Council approved on Oct. 9. But both sides said it’s not enough to squelch the contract.

Before approving the report the council, on a recommendation from Finance Director Mary Walter, reinstated a residency requirement that the city said was omitted by the fact finder in error.

“We would never agree to that,” City Manager Guy Santagate has said.

The day after the council vote, Rapp contended such a change was not allowed — the council was only allowed an up and down vote — and in effect, the council had rejected the report by altering it. And prior to the union’s Wednesday vote, Rapp sounded as though he was ready to play hardball on the issue.

“They had it, read it and were fine with it, then raised concerns (before the council vote),” he said. “They did not do what they should have done .”

By Thursday, however, Rapp had softened his rhetoric.

He said the union wants a “clarification” from the city’s negotiating team on residency but doesn’t see it as a problem. The rule the city wants to keep requires firefighters to live within 15 minutes of the station.

The residency issue aside, the main stumbling block to an agreement during years of impasse was striking a balance between having firefighters begin paying toward health insurance and getting wage increases.

Rapp said each member will see an overall increase in pay, even with the health insurance contribution, over the three year contract. The contribution varies depending on the plan. Those who transition to a less expensive plan will also received a cash payout in 2014 and 2015, as recommended by fact finder Gary Altman of Massachusetts.

“Right off the bat, they will get a pay increase while the health insurance payments don’t begin until Jan. 1,” said Rapp .

The effective date of the new contract has not been determined

“I hope soon, the sooner the better,” said Santagate on Thursday . “It is just a matter of having the language on residency, then signing it. I don’t think it is an issue that should hold up a contract.”

The final contract also requires council approval.

“I think it is a fair contract; fair to the city and fair to the workers,” Santagate said. “I’m glad to get that behind us.”

Rapp said the union voted “overwhelmingly” for the report.

“We did not get all we wanted, but it is good to get a deal and move on,” he said.

Meanwhile, Santagate said the city is continuing talks with the union representing employees in the the police department and public works department in the wake of a different fact finder’s report that was rejected by the council.

“It was not acceptable (financially,)” Santagate said. “It was too much on the tax rate. We have refined that and I think we are very, very close.”

The issue — health insurance in exchange for pay raises — also has been the main point of dispute in that negotiation. Fact finder Allan McCausland’s recommendation for union members to pay some toward health insurance was not enough of a tradeoff for raises, the city said.