TEXARKANA, Texas — City negotiators offered firefighters a wage increase Thursday, but in amounts likely to be rejected by union membership.
After a day of talks, city and firefighters' union negotiators found ways to agree on some matters while the most difficult obstacle to an employment contract — disagreement about wages — remains in place.
Countering the union's proposal of a one-time 16% increase, the city offered 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.
"I think this is a good first good-faith step," city Human Resources Director Jim Powell said.
Union local officer Scott Daniel argued that 3% a year would not be enough to cover inflation and normal market wage increases, so at the end of those two years, TTFD firefighters would be even further behind the market rate than they are now.
"This is your best, last and final offer?" Daniel asked.
Attorney Bettye Lynn, the city's chief negotiator, said yes, arguing that because the city must also take care of other employees, the 3% plan is the best it can do.
"It's not the best you can do. That's the problem," union local President Scott Roberts said.
The union team agreed to bring the offer to its membership for a vote, and the meeting adjourned.
The latest round of collective bargaining saw long periods when the sides retreated to separate meetings to discuss each other's proposals and counterproposals.
In the end, they 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 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.
No further negotiation sessions are scheduled.
The negotiation teams have agreed not to communicate with news media except through agreed-upon written statements.
In November 2016, Texas-side voters elected to allow the Fire Department to engage in collective bargaining.
Firefighters later chose the union, IAFF 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.