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Mo. firefighters secure 23% pay raises under new contract with city

Webster Groves and its union firefighters have settled a long-running dispute over staffing requirements and OT costs

Nassim Benchaabane
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WEBSTER GROVES, Mo. — The city of Webster Groves and its union firefighters have agreed on a new contract to settle a long-running dispute over minimum staffing requirements and overtime costs.

The new contract with Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters allows the city to pare back the number of firefighters it’s required to pay overtime to have on duty per shift, while giving firefighters a 23% pay raise over the next four years. The contract, which expires June 30, 2027, covers 33 of 38 firefighters who also serve paramedics in the suburb of 24,000 residents.

The agreement comes months after the union sued the city in March amid a standoff in negotiations to replace a contract that expired in June of 2022. A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge instead ordered the city and union to a court-supervised mediation, resulting in a contract both the union and city voted to approve this month.

“I think both parties were happy in the end with the outcome, and the union is excited to move forward with the city,” John Youngblood, a spokesman for Local 2665, said in an interview.

Webster Groves Mayor Laura Arnold said in a statement that the contract gives the city “greater predictability in staffing costs” and ensures firefighters are “very competitively compensated for the demanding job that they do.”

The city in March voted to allow an old contract to expire without a new agreement, accusing the union of refusing to negotiate in good faith by making counterproposals the city had already said it couldn’t meet, after more than a year of bargaining. The city said a requirement to keep at least 11 firefighters on staff every shift led to more than $580,000 in overtime costs last year — almost $325,000 over the department’s budget for overtime pay. The city sought to reduce the minimum-staffing requirement, among other changes meant to address costs, including layoffs and hiring freezes in other departments.

The union accused the city of using budget woes as an excuse to eliminate union protections. It sued to reinstate the contract, arguing the city unilaterally ended negotiations in violation of a provision of the prior contract that called for the agreement to stay in place “during good faith negotiations.”

The new contract requires the city staff 12 firefighters per shift but in case of illness or absence, only requires the city to pay overtime to keep 10 firefighters each shift. The city says it saved more than $100,000 in overtime costs since implementing the new policy in March.

The contract also retains longstanding benefits including a 2% annual cost of living increase, a step pay plan, an annual $1,000 stipend and an annual “longevity” bonus for employees who reach the top of their pay scale.

The new pay increase in the contract also resolved an outstanding grievance against Webster Groves that was under court arbitration, Youngblood said.

The courts ordered the union and city to evenly split legal costs for the lawsuit. City Manager Marie Peoples said Monday she did not know the cost to the city.


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