Local news

Spokane Council rejects firefighter labor contract

A tentative labor contract with Spokane firefighters was narrowly rejected Monday night by Spokane City Council members.

The 4-3 decision hinged on Councilman Steve Salvatori, who said he opposed the lack of transparency in how the tentative agreement was struck. Joining him in opposing the deal were council members Nancy McLaughlin, Mike Allen and Mike Fagan.

The three-year contract was negotiated in December by former Mayor Mary Verner in her final days in office.

Under the rejected deal, firefighters would get no cost-of-living raises this year or next. In 2014, they would get a 1.9 percent raise. In exchange, they would get more money in their paychecks by paying none of the cost of their health insurance premiums in 2013 and any portion of health coverage increases beyond 4 percent after that.

Officials said that with the deferred 3 percent raise firefighters received at the beginning of this year, the tentative deal would have increased city spending on Fire Department payroll and benefits by over $1 million per year.

Supporters of the plan said firefighters showed a willingness to compromise in tough times.

Police and firefighters in Washington state are prohibited from striking, so contract disputes are resolved through binding arbitration. Under state labor law, arbitrators determine Spokane’s contract based largely on the wages and benefits paid by nine “comparable” fire departments, including the departments in Tacoma, Spokane Valley, Everett, Bellevue, Kent and Vancouver.

Since most of those comparably sized departments are in Western Washington, where the cost of living is higher, wages also are higher. Binding arbitration, however, doesn’t take cost of living into account.

Council President Ben Stuckart, who supported the deal, warned that binding arbitration could force the city to pay its firefighters much more.

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