Palm Beach firefighters in pay talks

By Tim O'Meilia, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2003

WEST PALM BEACH -- Palm Beach firefighters and town officials are negotiating the town's first union contract in 30 years, and it's a marathon birth.

After 20 months of talks, the town and Local 2928 of the Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach County took their wage dispute to a mediator Thursday.

At issue is longevity pay. The firefighters say they'll receive an average $4,300 pay cut if longevity pay is eliminated; the town argues that's the price to pay for giving up its performance-based pay system for a step system based primarily on years of service, a method used by most fire unions.

"It's a huge concession to do away with performance (system) and giving an automatic increase of 4 percent is no different than a longevity plan," town Human Resources Director William Crouse told special master Stanley Sergent.

The basic pay-scale proposals of each side are not far apart, but the union wants to continue the longevity pay. The union has proposed a nine-step plan with 5 percent annual increases, beginning at $35,486 and topping out at $55,050 for a firefighter/paramedic. The town wants a 10-step, 4 percent annual increase plan that begins at $36,728 and goes to $54,381.

The basic plans would cost the town about $143,000 more than current salaries, not including longevity pay. The firefighters argued that while the town's pay scale is among the county's highest, actual salaries are far less.

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