Spokane city fire battalion chiefs will get raises over the next four years, despite concerns by some City Council members that the economy is forcing taxpayers to take cuts or face layoffs.
The Spokane City Council was told Monday that it had little choice but to give members of the Spokane Association of Fire Officers – the union that represents 10 battalion chiefs – raises negotiated in collective bargaining sessions. If the council refused, the city could be accused of bad-faith bargaining and facing binding arbitration, said Gita Hatcher, who represented the city in negotiations.
The raises, which are between 3.6 percent and 5.8 percent for battalion chiefs over the life of the contract, are in line with settlements around the state in departments of similar size. That’s what an arbitrator would look at in binding arbitration, Hatcher said.
The battalion chiefs are accepting a higher cost of medical insurance, she added. Last year, the chiefs made between $108,000 and $123,000.
“It is a good contract. It is an equitable contract,” Hatcher said.
Councilman Mike Allen said he was voting no even though it was “largely a symbolic vote.” City employees are in line for raises that can’t be sustained with projected revenues, he said, and at some point the city will have to lay off workers.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who also voted no, questioned a raise for city employees at a time when residents are being asked to take wage cuts to avoid losing their jobs. She called state laws requiring binding arbitration for public employees an “unfunded mandate.”
Councilman Bob Apple defended the contract and the process. People who complain about being presented with a contract they can’t change should sit in on negotiations, he said.
No one gets everything they want in negotiations, Council President Joe Shogan said: “It’s a good agreement. It’s a tough agreement.”