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December 13, 2010

5

City Council reluctantly approves big firefighter raises

by Deena Winter

By DEENA WINTER
The Lincoln City Council has approved big raises for the city’s nearly 300 firefighters, saying their hands are tied by a state law mandating that their salaries keep up with firefighters in similar-sized cities.
The four Democrats on the council voted “yes” tonight, while the three Republicans on the council voted “no.”
City officials defended the new labor contract, which will increase firefighters’ salaries by more than 10 percent in some cases.
Personnel Director Mark Koller said a survey of six other cities (Des Moines, Iowa, Madison, Wisc., Rockford, Ill., St. Paul, Minn., Omaha and Aurora, Ill.) showed Lincoln firefighters were due raises of “potentially” 10 to 15 percent, so if the City Council rejected the proposed contract and the wage dispute went to the state Commission of Industrial Relations, firefighters could be awarded even bigger raises. And that’s just for the cost-of-living raises, not counting longevity bonuses that help boost salaries, so Koller said firefighters could end up getting salary increases of up to 27 percent.
That’s all because of the way public employees are paid in Nebraska: In exchange for giving up the right to strike, public employees have their salaries determined by comparing them to similar cities. Wage disputes are handled by the CIR, which will ensure compensation is “comparable” to other cities, regardless of cities’ budget problems.
The CIR, therefore, has become the bogeyman looming over labor negotiations.
The head of the fire union, Dave Engler, said last year firefighters “attempted to help the city” by taking no raises, but they still heard complaints that they would just slip farther behind other cities. So this year the union decided to take whatever the city offered in wages.
“It’s not our position to determine what the city can and can’t afford,” Engler said.
The Lincoln Independent Business Association urged the council to reject the contract and send negotiators back to the table, saying most firefighters will get raises worth more than $7,000.
“Lincoln cannot be silent while the CIR effectively makes spending decisions,” Mach said.
Republican Councilman Adam Hornung said while the city can never pay police and firefighters enough money, “We can only pay what we can afford to pay.”
Republican Councilman Jon Camp said he agrees, but soldiers at war aren’t being paid “anywhere near” the $80,000 average salary of Lincoln firefighters. Camp said there are typically 300 applicants for each job opening in the fire department, the jobs are so coveted.
But Democratic Councilman Gene Carroll said firefighters could have asked for more money and going to the CIR could cost the city lots more money. Democratic Councilman Jonathan Cook said if the CIR ruled the city owed more, it could cost up to $2 million more.
“We’re gambling with taxpayer money,” Cook said. “We should go with the deal that’s before us.”
And so they did.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. J. Brown
    Dec 13 2010

    I want a customer from LFR. Maybe I can make it one more year.

    Reply
  2. Roger Yant
    Dec 13 2010

    What they are getting vs what our troops get to protect the whole country is very sad. I call it greedy. Not that I don’t admire the fire fighters and all, it’s just so sad that someone willing to go half way round the world to protect even the fire fighters are paid such a pittance to what the fire fighters get. I have to say, we, yes we as a city, state and nation are a very greedy people. It’s sad to see the fire fighters demand such a raise in these times.

    Reply
    • Gene
      Dec 14 2010

      So how much does the average firefighter make versus the average member of the armed forces?

      Reply
    • Mike H
      Feb 11 2011

      Roger, if you’re feeling guilty because you believe soldiers are underpaid, there is nothing stopping you or anyone else from donating money to Army Emergency Relief or the similiar funds in other services. There is also the Wounded Warrior Foundation and many others who can help soldiers living with the scars of conflict, not to mention you could create a scholarship fund or provide housing for veterans who are struggling. While there are many opportunities for soldiers to go to college or whatever, there are many especially Reserve and National Guard who slip through the cracks. Perhaps the bargaining agreements should factor cost of living in their comparison cities rather than just looking at salary and population. Firefighters and other government employee wages and benefits are not hand-outs, they are earned based on whatever program the government decides fits their specific situation…

      Reply
  3. Gene
    Dec 14 2010

    I think a perfect opportunity to tell the firefighters that they make too much money would have been the other morning as they put out that fire downtown. There were several there and you could have addressed them as a group.

    Reply

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