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story.lead_photo.caption Texarkana, Texas, Fire Department union representatives and city negotiators begin a meeting regarding new contracts on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, at Texarkana, Texas, City Hall. The two groups, the city of Texarkana and International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 367, are laying the ground rules for collective bargaining negotiations. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — Collective bargaining talks between the city and the firefighters union are at a standstill as a contract proposal is being prepared for a vote by union membership.

The negotiations are "in limbo," union local President Scott Robertson said, with no further meetings scheduled. Six negotiation meetings, open to the public and the press, have taken place this year, beginning in June.

The sides' chief negotiators — labor-relations attorney Bettye Lynn for the city and state-level union official Joe Tellez for the firefighters — are "are working on finalizing the language" of a contract proposal for the union to vote on, city Human Resources Specialist J.W. Bramlett said.

In the most recent meeting, held Sept. 5, the city countered the union's proposal of a one-time 16% increase, offering a 3% raise in each of the next two years. Compensation has been the most important issue to the firefighters, who argue they are paid significantly less than their counterparts in comparable cities.

The sides tentatively agreed on a procedure for choosing which firefighters work overtime when necessary, and on ensuring management alone has power over employee scheduling.

The union also tentatively agreed to the city's preferred grievance procedure, which would culminate in non-binding mediation and a final ruling by the city manager. Firefighters had proposed binding third-party arbitration as the ultimate resolution of any disputes, arguing that leaving any final decisions to the city manager creates a conflict of interest.

The union has offered to accept an insurance clause ensuring that firefighters will continue to have the same options as other city employees. But the city team refused to accept the union's maintenance of standard clause — language that would ensure the contract will not weaken or reduce firefighters benefits — in return.

In November 2016, Texas-side voters elected to allow the Fire Department to engage in collective bargaining.

Firefighters later chose the union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 367, aka the Texarkana Professional Firefighters Association, as their representative in employment talks.

In 2018, multiple meetings and an attempt at third-party mediation did not result in a contract.

Union members voted against accepting a contract proposed by the city, rejecting it as unresponsive to firefighters' concerns. The city rejected the union's request to resolve disagreements through binding arbitration.

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