The Portland firefighters’ union and the city have reached an agreement on a contract, more than two years after the last one expired.

Recent changes in city and union leadership – including a new city manager, mayor and fire chief – helped restart negotiations, said union President Chris Thomson, a paramedic and fire captain who was elected in December.

“There was a lot of sore feelings,” he said.

Thomson credited City Manager Jon Jennings, who was hired in June, for “(bringing) everybody back together.”

The four-year contract, which the union approved Tuesday, covers the past two years and extends until the end of 2017 – a year longer than the typical contract, so new negotiations won’t be needed so soon, Thomson said.

The firefighters’ biggest concession was agreeing to receive regular pay, instead of overtime, for the first 12 hours they work beyond their normal 42-hour week, said Thomson.

That will take effect once the agreement is ratified by the City Council, he said.

The overtime budget has been a problem for the city, at least in part because retiring members of the department have not been replaced and remaining employees have been working more hours.

On 56 occasions last year, Thomson said, union members were forced to work overtime under the threat of being fired if they refused.

The city has since hired 12 new employees and, Jennings said, plans not to let vacancies go unfilled for long periods.

Management has agreed to save the department money by not filling the assistant chief position vacated by David Jackson, who was promoted to chief, Thomson said.

The city also gave in somewhat to objections to additional EMS licensing requirements for firefighters who work only on fire trucks and not in ambulances, said Jackson.

Although the department will start incorporating those requirements, they will not take effect as soon as the contract is approved, he said.

The city also agreed to pay cost-of-living increases, retroactive to 2014.

The city and union negotiators drafted a compromise agreement over the summer after two days in mediation, but the union rejected the deal in November.

Thomson said that mostly had to do with internal politics. When the tentative agreement was reached this time, he said, he visited every station at every shift to explain it and encourage the union’s support.

Jennings said it’s been “terrific to work with” the union’s new leadership.

“We very much appreciate everything Local 740 did in moving this forward,” he said.

The City Council will take up the agreement on March 7.

 


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