There were lots of reasons given Monday for why the city had little choice but to give its firefighters 7 to 10 percent raises — even though all other city employees got far less.
But the unspoken reason for the 4-3 vote — split along party lines — can be traced back to campaign donations. The four Democrats who voted “yes” on the fire union contract received more money from the firefighters’ union than any other entity when they were elected. And the three Republicans who voted “no” got nothing from the fire union. Take a gander:
• Councilwoman Jayne Snyder got $13,500 from the firefighters’ union, plus more than $7,000 from other unions, during her campaign last year.
• Councilman Gene Carroll received $13,500 from the firefighters’ union during his campaign last year, plus another $9,000 from other unions — accounting for nearly half the money he raised.
• Councilman Doug Emery got $5,000 from the firefighters’ union during his 2007 campaign — accounting for about one-third of all the money he raised, plus another $1,000 from other unions.
• Councilman Jonathan Cook (who tends not to raise much money for his campaigns) got $5,000 from the firefighters’ union during his 2007 campaign — plus another $500 from one other union.
The remaining three Republicans on the council received no donations from the firefighters’ union in their last campaigns.
When the firefighters’ union is responsible for putting up half the money for your campaign in some cases, do you think those candidates don’t feel somewhat beholden to the union at a time like this? Emery and Cook are up for re-election in the spring — do you think they want to risk losing the union’s support?
The legislation now goes to the desk of Mayor Chris Beutler — whose own campaign received $10,000 from the Lincoln firefighters’ union, and another $10,000 from a state firefighters’ union.
When it became clear Lincoln firefighters were headed for double-digit raises this year, in some cases, I started calling around to other union heads to see what their members think of the fact that firefighters will get raises of 7 to 10 percent this year.
Most city employees will get 1 to 2 percent.
I got hold of the presidents of three other city employee unions, but they said they haven’t heard much grumbling from their employees.
Jeff Hillebrand, president of the Lincoln Police Union, said some of his members will complain, but comparing police officers’ raises (1 percent) to firefighters’ (6 percent plus longevity raises of up to 4 percent) would be comparing apples to oranges. (Or more appropriately, comparing apples to watermelons.)
Hillebrand said the city’s negotiators didn’t even offer 1 percent.
“They wanted us to take 0,” he said. The police officers’ salary survey showed they were owed more than 1, and the city’s survey showed they were overpaid, so they met in the middle.
“It’s a tough year for the city, so we weren’t gonna push it,” Hillebrand said.
He said Lincoln police officers earn an average of $60,000 per year; last night Councilman Jon Camp said Lincoln firefighters average $80,000 salaries annually.
Those rebels over in the Public Association of Government Employees weren’t too concerned either, since president Jeff Stump said they expect to get pretty good raises this year, too. PAGE is the union fighting the mayor’s initiative to make retirement benefits less generous for new hires.
And the president of the largest city union, the Lincoln City Employees Association, said while her members haven’t met since the news about firefighter raises came out, she hasn’t heard much complaining that the raises were so much higher than what they got. LCEA negotiated 1.25 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year, president Michele Salvage said.
City officials said firefighters were due the big raises because state law requires that their salaries be commensurate with their peers in similar sized cities, and a joint survey by the city and fire union showed their salaries lagging 10 to 15 percent. I wish someone at the council meeting had asked why the city and union did a joint survey this year, but nobody did.
Let’s take a closer look at the proposed fire union contract that goes before the Lincoln City Council today at 3 p.m.
A public hearing will be held, and at the end of the meeting the council should vote on the labor contract.
Set aside the two 3 percent raises — or 6 percent raises — that are getting most of the attention. There’s also a new provision that would change the way the city also calculates a tidy little bonus called “longevity.”
You’re probably confused, since most private sector employees don’t get extra pay just for having stuck around at least five years. (Maybe a paper weight or a plaque.) But this is a seniority-based pay system.
And firefighters currently receive up to $2,069 per year in longevity pay. The new contract, however, would change that from a lump sum to a percentage of their salary.
No big deal, right? Wrong.
Let’s take a firefighter who’s worked 25 years. Their $57,128 salary would get a 6 percent cost-of-living increase, but rather than the old $2,069 in longevity pay, they’d get 7 percent of their salary, which is 4,242. That’s more than $2,000 more than they’d get under the old labor contract. Or a 3.8 percent raise.
Let’s see — 6 percent plus 3.8 percent = 9.8 percent. (And these figures come from the city personnel office.) Not too shabby a raise on the heels of the Great Recession, huh?
Let’s take a fire captain who’s worked for the city for 10 years. They currently make a little more than $67,000. Under the old labor agreement, the captain would get $851 in longevity pay. But under the Mayor Chris Beutler-endorsed union contract, the captain would get $2,140 in longevity. That’s $1,289 more than he/she would have gotten before, or the equivalent of a 1.9 percent salary increase.
That works out to about an 8 percent raise for that captain. Nice, huh?
Think those are probably flukes? Figures calculated by the city personnel office show raises ranging from 7.6 percent to 10.7 percent.
But don’t take my word for it. Read the document yourself: 2010-12-8–Total-Impact-of-Fire-Contract–2010-2011
How will Mayor Beutler justify these kinds of raises for just one group of city employees, when all the other city employees “took one for the team” and accepted paltry (by comparison — many employees would love to have any raise these days) 1 to 2 percent raises this year?
Is it possible this is payback for all the money the firefighters’ union gave Beutler and the Democrat-controlled City Council? The fire union gave more money to the recently elected Democrats than anybody else, by a long shot. So how will the Dems on the council vote on this contract? And how will they justify 7 to 10 percent raises for just one group of employees?
I can’t wait to find out.