‘We’re asking the City to do what’s right’: After nearly a year of negotiations, Tallahassee firefighters are working without a contract

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 11:01 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, Tallahassee firefighters have been working without a formal contract with the city for more than 100 days.

After nearly a year of negotiations, the two sides are far from an agreement and have declared a formal impasse. Now, the city and Tallahassee Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 2339 are spending thousands on mediation involving a Special Magistrate process.

“The City Manager has contended they don’t have the money due to COVID,” union president Joey Davis told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan Thursday night.

Davis said IAFF has had 13 meetings with city leaders since last February before the negotiations stalled.

“We were looking to match, or get enough to be closer and more competitive, to other first responders in our area and try to get it to the point where we’re not losing men and women,” Davis said.

The union, which covers more than 275 Tallahassee employees, is hoping for a Collective Bargaining Agreement that would include a pay raise in addition to supplemental pay that would help counterbalance high healthcare and pension costs. Right now, according to Davis, Tallahassee firefighters’ take-home pay is an average of 14% less than other first responders in the area. And, their mandatory retirement contribution is more than anywhere else in the state at over 20%.

Davis said this has made it hard to retain young firefighters who are lured by higher wages elsewhere. A trend he has seen as recent as last week.

“Our starting firefighters are the lowest paid first responders in our county,” Davis explained. “It’s hard to calculate how much the city will lose by so many young men and women leaving.”

The City of Tallahassee denied WCTV’s request for an interview on the topic, but provided a draft of a 56 page-long deal that is still on the table and the following statement:

”After 13 successful bargaining sessions with the IAFF bargaining team, the City and firefighters reached a three year agreement on all 39 contract articles including wages, pension benefits and health & safety measures. The City ratified the agreement but the firefighters did not ratify their own agreement forcing the parties into an impasse. There is not a contract at this time because the union membership did not ratify the agreement.”

However, David said the union voted it down after being told it was all the city would offer and then discovering another local agency’s CBA included benefits negotiators had been told were not an option.

“Our people felt like they weren’t being treated fairly,” Davis explained.

On Wednesday, City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow publicly supported the firefighters on his official Facebook page before telling WCTV that the city needs to get creative.

I stand with Tallahassee’s bravest — our great professional firefighters. City Hall shouldn’t balance its budget on...

Posted by Jeremy Matlow on Wednesday, January 13, 2021

“It seems like this city administration feels like the contract doesn’t fit into the budget and it seems like, priorities right? I don’t think we can balance the budget off the backs of employees,” Matlow said.

Matlow suggested that perhaps the city postpone one of its major infrastructure projects and re-allocate the funds for this group of first responders.

The Special Magistrate hearing is scheduled for early March. Both the City and the union have retained respective legal counsel, which Davis said has cost thousands. Both parties will also have to split the cost for the proceeding.

Meanwhile, firefighters will continue their 53-hour workweeks, mandatory overtime due to the Pandemic, and come into near-daily contact with people infected with the virus.

“We’re willing to take on the risks, we’re willing to do it day-in and day out,” Davis expressed. “We’re just asking the community to stand behind us as we’re asking the city to do what’s right.”

You can visit the union’s website here.

You can find a draft of the proposed contract at this link or below.

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