L.A. officials reach tentative salary deal with firefighters

The two-year deal would address a pay disparity that has left firefighters earning 2 percent less than their counterparts in the police department


Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles officials have reached a tentative salary agreement with the city's firefighters union that provides no raises in the current fiscal year and a 2% boost next summer.

Frank Lima, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, said the proposed two-year deal would address a decades-old pay disparity that has left firefighters earning 2% less than their counterparts in the Police Department.

"We realize the city's in financial difficulty, and the firefighters have absolutely done our part to help with the city's structural deficit," Lima said. "But we feel this tentative agreement honors our work and is fair."

The union still must hold a ratification vote for its 3,000 members. In an email sent to firefighters last week, Lima said the proposed contract includes not just a pay hike, but also increases in longevity pay and health and dental subsidies. He would not discuss those details with The Times.

The deal provides the first breakthrough for Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council after months of protracted salary talks involving three major employee groups. But it also represents a departure from the financial strategy laid out this year by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the high-level budget official.

In April, Santana recommended that Garcetti and the council hold off on employee raises for three years. That approach, he said in a 37-page report, would bring the city's budget into balance by 2018.

Garcetti and council members have sought to avoid pay increases in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2015. One source familiar with the firefighter talks, who asked to remain anonymous because they lacked authorization to discuss the matter, said the agreement would achieve that goal, while allowing for a 2% pay increase early in the contract's second year.

Mayoral spokesman Jeff Millman had no comment. Santana confirmed the two sides have a tentative agreement but would not provide specifics. The city's overall negotiating strategy, he said, is to "control costs and compensation as much as possible."

Three of the city's most costly employee contracts expired last summer. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents an estimated 20,000 civilian employees, has been criticizing efforts by the mayor and council members to have its members pay 10% of their healthcare premiums. That concession, the group said, would result in wage cuts of up to 5% for some workers.

The Police Protective League, which represents more than 9,000 rank-and-file officers, has had an even more combative response to the city, saying officers will leave for other law enforcement agencies if they don't receive raises.

League officials said last month that they submitted a proposal asking for three consecutive pay increases totaling 8%: 2% in January 2015, 3% in January 2016 and 3% in January 2017. The city responded, they said, with a plan for no raises over a two-year period — and a 2% increase going into effect on the last day of the contract's second year.

Police officers and firefighters went without any raises between 2009 and 2011. Since then, they have received increases of around 7%, according to figures provided by Santana. Coalition workers have seen a much bigger boost, with raises of around 25% over seven years.

The city's effort to hold the line on pay increases has been driven in large part by rising pension costs. The city's contribution for police and firefighter retirement benefits has jumped from $175 million in 2005 to $626 million this year. Santana expects that number to reach $710 million in 2016, further limiting the city's ability to provide services.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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