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District, firefighters agree on contract

After 15 months of negotiations, the Bainbridge Island Fire District has reached tentative agreement on a contract with its uniformed firefighters.

The new three-year agreement will give the eight members of the bargaining unit immediate raises of roughly 11.5 percent, with subsequent year raises pegged to the increase in the cost of living, according to Ken Guy, fire district executive director.

“This is good news for all of us,” Guy said. “It has taken us awhile because it is a first-time contract.”

The district’s full-time employees voted to unionize in 2000, and contract negotiations have been continuing since December of that year.

Union local president Greg Borgen was also happy the negotiations are over.

“We’re happy that it’s done,” he said. “We’re glad we didn’t have to go to binding arbitration, which is costly, and you don’t know which way the arbitrator is going to go.”

Public-safety employees are prohibited from striking by Washington law. Instead, if an impasse is reached in negotiations, the parties can engage in what is called “interest arbitration,” in which an arbitrator basically dictates a contract for both sides.

The decision of another arbitrator helped overcome the difficult issue of health-care costs, Borgen said.

“We had a mediator come in for part of the negotiations, and that mediator showed us a decision from a Washington arbitrator that helped us see the trend was going to some sort of cost sharing.”

The contract retains employer-paid health insurance for the members, but requires employees to pick up 10 percent of the premium costs for their dependents, Guy said.

The firefighters were set to ratify the contract Monday night, but didn’t have a quorum at their meeting, Borgen said. The fire district directors have ratification on their agenda tonight, but may have to defer a vote for two weeks pending ratification by the firefighters, Borgen said.

Meanwhile, bargaining continues on a contract for the three clerical and support personnel. Guy and Borgen said all issues are resolved except pay rates. A consultant retained by the district will be brought in to look at the job descriptions and assess comparable wages elsewhere, and while that report will not be binding, both Guy and Borgen said they hoped the report would help the parties reach agreement.,

The contract with the uniformed firefighters establishes five pay grades. All rates of pay will be keyed to the highest grade, with training and supervisory personnel making more and less experienced personnel making less.

Under the basic agreement, firefighters will work one 24-hour shift, then have two full days off. The regular work year will be 122 shifts, or 2,920 hours per year, Guy said. Pay for the top grade will be $4,737 per month, up from the present rate of $4,242. Step 1 pay will go from $3,397 to $3,790.

Overtime adds roughly 25 percent to those numbers, Guy said.

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