CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne City Council and the local firefighters union are in the midst of negotiating a new contract that city leaders hope will cover the next two years of emergency service protection.
The union, International Association of Firefighters Local 279, has proposed an increase in pay and a reduction in overtime hours, while the city’s position would be to keep the current contract in place. The two groups planned to meet Thursday night to continue discussions.
The union wants to see base salaries increase by 3.5 percent across the board while dropping the amount of overtime staff works down from 56 hours in a pay period to 52. During a Feb. 27 meeting on the contract, Local 279 President Bill Hinz said the reduction in overtime and the increase in pay would result in firefighters receiving the same salary under the current contract.
Hinz said the reduction of four hours of overtime per firefighter per pay period would save the city about 11,000 hours of overtime. That has become an issue for the city as firefighters have seen calls for service increase while staff size remain below where it was in the 1980s.
The reduction in overtime would also help firefighters deal with the stress that comes with an increase in call volume, Hinz said.
“We’re starting to see burnout, we’re doing a lot more with less and that’s going to increase with the city growing. That call volume is just going to continue to grow,” Hinz said during the meeting. “It’s a positive thing for the city as well as a positive thing for the local (union).”
The union also wants to see firefighters and staff included in any end-of-the year bonuses given out to other city employees. In previous contracts, Hinz said firefighters and staff had been part of those benefits.
Another switch the union proposed is moving firefighter scheduling to what is referred to as a Kelly shift system, something the city had previously used before steep budget cuts in the early 2000s. That system typically staffs a fire station with three teams working on a nine-day cycle. Each team would work three 24-hour shifts with 24 hours off between each shift. The team would then be given four days off before the cycle starts again.
The goal of the Kelly shifts would be to continue to provide coverage across the city but also reduce the amount of overtime firefighters worked, Hinz said.
Mayor Marian Orr described the negotiating process as positive and was very hopeful the two groups could come to agreement on terms for the next contract by the March 22 deadline. After that date, if a contract hasn’t been agreed upon, the negotiations would move into arbitration, something Orr said the city wanted to avoid.
“It’s an arduous process but it’s an important one. And what I really appreciate is we’re both going into this in good faith and with our citizens’ safety on top of our minds,” Orr said. “Inevitably, what this comes down to is wages, salaries and benefits. And what the union is asking from us and what the city can afford, while looking at the city’s future needs as far as our workforce.”
While previous contracts have run in one-year increments, Orr said she and the Cheyenne City Council want this new contract to run for two years. The city recently presented that idea to the union, and Orr said the city expected to hear the union’s thoughts on that during Thursday night’s meeting.
For an update on Thursday night’s negotiations, visit WyomingNews.com this afternoon or read Saturday’s print edition.