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City, firefighters at odds over new contract—and heading for a vote by city commission

Not all the firefighter ranks accept the special magistrate's recommendations on their pay and benefits
Anna Jones
Not all the firefighter ranks accept the special magistrate's recommendations on their pay and benefits

The local firefighters’ union and the city remain at odds over a new contract—with the issue now heading for a vote by the Tallahassee City Commission in August.

On the eve of the Fourth of July, Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Richardson announced that the city and the local firefighters’ union had reached a contract and pay deal based on the advice of a magistrate.

“In recognition of their dedication and hard work, our frontline firefighters will see an 11 percent compensation increase in their next paycheck,” he said. 

However, the local union says that’s not quite true, and they’ll be taking the matter to a hearing by the city commission.

The “recommended terms” Richardson mentioned in a text message sent out Wednesday night came from Special Magistrate Christopher M. Shulman, who held a hearing in March after the city and the union had held more than 20 negotiating sessions without yielding a contract.

Under the terms of Shulman’s recommendations, entry-level firefighters--those with that official term in their job description--should receive a 5 percent pay increase, $1,000 lump sum payment and a 3.75 percent reduction in their pension contributions. Those with the rank of engineer would get 1.5 percent pay increases and a 3.75 percent pension contribution reduction, but no lump sum payments.

“I was informed by the city manager [Reese Goad] that the firefighters and engineers–who are members of one union – they took a vote and agreed to accept the recommendation of the special magistrate,” Richardson told WFSU. “And that resulted in the overall 11 percent pay increase for those two entities, the firefighters and the engineers.” 

Union president Joey Davis believes that the 11 percent figure cited by Richardson is misleading because it only applies to the lowest-ranked firefighters and not the rest of the covered positions -- the engineers, lieutenants, captains and battalion chiefs.

“He’s playing fast and loose with the numbers a bit,” said Davis. “And he’s also taken the opportunity to insult a lot of firefighters. I’ve been getting multiple phone calls throughout the day from firefighters absolutely angry at the fact that the commissioner does not – either does not understand what they are getting paid or does not consider them to be a frontline firefighter.” 

What’s more, he said, the pay raises are not retroactive and would only be applied for a quarter of the contract year, which began Oct. 1. The city has only agreed to pay the raises starting June 17, the day Shulman released his recommendations.

“We asked for a simple clarification on that, and the city filed a legal motion to block the special magistrate from weighing in on it,” Davis said. “So, those firefighters who [Richardson] states are getting 11 percent, we would say that the math isn’t quite mathin’.”

For those members of the union in supervisory jobs--captains and battalion chiefs, Shulman recommended no raises but a $500 lump sum payment and a 2.5 percent reduction in their pension contributions.

“And then we still have some people who are getting zero or next to zero, Davis said, and that’s why they have turned their recommendation from the special magistrate down and will be taking it to a city commission hearing. Now, sadly, I’m hearing that that hearing will not take place until [August] 21st, which is the day after the primary, which is obviously convenient for the commissioner.” 

Richardson is up for re-election this fall in a race in which the city and firefighter union negotiations have become a sticking point. In past races, the local union has backed Richardson, but this cycle, they’ve endorsed one of his opponents, former Tallahassee mayor Dot Inman Johnson.

“We’re just really glad that we came to that agreement, and it’s something that both sides can accepts,” said Richardson. “I think it’s a win for our community. And I’m looking forward to continuing to support our firefighters, as I have for all these years.”


Special Magistrate Christopher M. Shulman's recommended pay and benefits increases:

firefighters5% across the board raise, $1,000 lump sum payment, 3.75% pension contribution reduction
engineers1.5% across the board raise, no lump sum payment, 3.75 pension contribution reduction
lieutenants2.5% across the board raise, no lump sum payment, 3.75% pension contribution reduction
captainsno across the board, $500 lump sum payment, $2.5% pension contribution reduction
battalion chiefsno across the board, $500 lump sum payment, 2.5% pension contribution reduction
Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.