After a recent pair of mediation sessions with Texarkana, Texas, officials, the city's firefighters union is close to voting on a proposed new employment contract.
City and union negotiation teams met with a mediator Sept. 26 and Oct. 5 at City Hall, and firefighters are expected to vote on the contract Monday, according to Deputy City Manager Kyle Dooley and Scott Robertson, president of the Texas-side union chapter, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 367.
No details of the mediation talks or proposed contract are available because the meetings were not open to the public and the teams have agreed to ground rules that prevent them from communicating with news media except through joint written statements.
Negotiations stalled in late August, when the union requested mediation. The teams made little progress in the course of nine negotiation sessions that began in mid-June. Among other sticking points, the city team said budget restraints precluded the union's requested pay raise.
The union's proposed raises are based on its survey of fire departments in 15 other Texas cities. It found that Texarkana, Texas, Fire Department employees on average make about 23 percent to 34 percent less than their counterparts, depending on rank and seniority.
Disagreements on issues such as minimum staffing level and whether union teams should be allowed to negotiate while on duty also remained to be resolved.
If mediation does not yield an agreement, binding arbitration is possible but will not necessarily follow. The parties must try mediation and reach a formal, legal impasse before either can request arbitration. An impasse is defined in state law as failing to have reached a written agreement on all disputes by the end of the agreed-upon negotiation period.
In November 2016, Texas-side voters elected to allow the fire department to engage in collective bargaining. Firefighters later chose the union as their representative in employment talks.