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St. Clair Shores Police, Fire Contracts Settled

City Council approved a three-year contract with the city's firefighter union Monday, while an arbitrator ruled in favor of the city for a new contract with police officers.

The route to contracts with the city's police and fire unions took two different paths in recent days.

St. Clair Shores City Council approved Monday a "groundbreaking" contract with the firefighters union that includes lower entry wages and overtime guarantees.

Meanwhile on Friday, a state arbitrator issued a decision in a contract dispute between the police officers union that imposed a 5 percent wage reduction along with a two-year wage freeze.

These agreements come as the city moves into the final stages of budget negotiations before the June 30 deadline.

"Nothing is perfect, but I think it was a good job done all around," councilman Peter Rubino said Monday about the firefighters' contract. "We have actually increased service over this whole time. There has never been a cut, never been a decrease in service."

The agreement, which had already been approved by the 48-member union, goes into effect July 1. 

"This is a groundbreaking agreement in a number of areas," said Mike Smith, human resources director and assistant city manager.

Among the concessions that were agreed upon by the firefighters was a reduction in entry level wages, increased pension contributions, a freeze in the 2011 and 2012 wages, and a unique guarantee by the city and firefighters to set overtime amount and if it is exceeded, the firefighters will be responsible for 60 percent of the costs.

"This was an outstanding example of how management and labor can work together," said Benjamin Hughes, city manager.

Fire union and city officials added that there are certain stipulations that would release both sides for certain emergencies or situations.

"It forces both sides to be responsible," said Chris Krotche, president of IAFF 1744. "We worked out a realistic deal."

These agreements, along with estimated revenue from running a third ambulance and projected retirements, will save the city an estimated $260,000 annually.

"We needed a win-win ... this is a win-win in my opinion for firefighters and the administration," said Mayor Robert Hison. "We have addressed many of the concerns the residents asked us to look at."

The agreement with the 63 officers represented by the St. Clair Shores Police Officer Association came after the union and city could not come to an agreement through negotiations. A key sticking point was the request for a 5 percent wage reduction by the city, which had been agreed upon by the other unions in the city.

The arbitrator sided with the city in the decision, which dates back to July 1, 2010. Effective Monday, all members take a 5 percent wage reduction that is not retro-active, according to Smith. Union members will also be making a 1 percent pension contribution.

Starting July 1, the wages of the officers will be frozen and they will pay 1 percent to fund retiree health care. On July 1, 2012, they will get a 2 percent wage increase.

In the fourth year, if the city's rainy day fund exceeds $5.8 million dollars, the union will get a 2 percent increase. If it is under $5.8 million, there would be no increase, Smith said.

The current fund balance is about $14.6 million, but could be reduced to less than $1 million by 2014 according to various city projections.

Additionally, new hires will have reduced entry level wages, contribute 2 percent to retiree health care and will participate in a reduced pension plan.

According to the arbitrator's decision, the city will realize between $1.4-1.5 million in savings over the remaining three years of the agreement.

The final remaining union without an agreement is the police command officers. Smith said he was hopeful the city and the command officers could reach an agreement.

Councilwoman Candice Rusie said it was a "shame" that the arbitration process cost the city both financially and in administration's time only "to ultimately and finally receive the same 5 percent wage concession that all other bargaining units (with the notable exception of the Command Officers' Association) gave us willingly last year."

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