After going nearly two years without a negotiated contract, the city of Wichita and its firefighters won't have to deal with another one until the middle of 2013.
Tuesday, the City Council approved a contract giving firefighters a 2.5 percent pay increase across the board and establishing a recommended daily staffing level for the first time. The vote was 7-0.
The pay increase will be for 2012 and 2013. The increase will cost the city $718,000 in 2012.
It is the first negotiated contract the firefighters have had since the end of 2009. They have been working off a one-year 2010 agreement, which the council imposed last January after the city and the union were unable to come to an agreement.
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Animosity in negotiations led to breakdowns in past talks. But this time a federal mediator met with both sides in March to discuss how the talks should be conducted and then sat in on the seven meetings.
That helped the process, both sides agreed.
"We still had some major hurdles," said Rocky Bumgarner, president of the International Firefighters Local 135. He noted that City Manager Robert Layton had to step in at the end to keep discussions moving.
Layton told the council, "Hopefully, down the road, we'll have developed a more trusting relationship."
The new contract will be back-dated Dec. 25, 2010, and will continue through Dec. 20, 2013.
As a part of the compromise, there will be a two-year freeze on the annual 2.5 percent pay increases that some firefighters receive as they reach levels of years of service.
About 55 percent of the 380 firefighters covered in the contract — captains and below — have been receiving the step increases. But about 45 percent of the firefighters have exhausted all 15 of the step increases and haven't had a raise in two years.
Under the new contract, all of the firefighters will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase in each of the next two years.
The contract also recommends a daily staffing level of 117 firefighters. The level is not mandatory, but it is the first time a staffing number has been addressed in the contract.
The number was established to "ensure safety and effectiveness," the contract said.