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Boise, firefighter union unable to reach contract deal, head to mediation


The City of Boise and its fire union ended months of negotiations over a new contract without a deal. Now, the two sides will move to mediation to hash out how the city will compensate its firefighters.

The two sides held a series of sessions throughout the summer to come to an agreement an a variety of compensation factors – including pay, vacation, benefits, and retirement plans. As BoiseDev reported in June, the generally respectful sessions saw contention early on when firefighters asked the city to stop streaming and archiving the negotiation sessions online.

Countering a counter

Tuesday, the City of Boise presented what it called a “counter offer to its own offer,” to the Boise Firefighters Union Local 149. Mayor Lauren McLean’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn offered a lengthy statement at the beginning of the final bargaining session, saying the mayor and city council had been briefed on the negotiations, and that the city didn’t feel the union offers were something it could accept.

“Our position is the city is being challenged by the union’s previous economic offers that the city considers to be out of the ordinary and not supported by market data or comparison cities,” Washburn said. “In fact, firefighters are some of the highest paid city employees.”

Washburn said the city didn’t think the union’s proposals were taking cost of living or the consumer price index into account.

“I’m finding the lack of justification for your proposals to be a challenge, particularly as I discuss them with mayor and council,” she said.

Jason Shuey, who is the primary negotiator for the union, responded in disagreement.

“We put together some justified proposals,” he said. “When you say it’s unprecedented times, it absolutely is. There are some departments across the state getting double-digit increases.  It’s a different market from the last ten years.”

Final city proposal

The city and the union agreed before negotiations began to not speak to the media about the process. The sessions are open to the public and streamed online, but not made available for later viewing. BoiseDev requested a copy of the city’s latest offer to the union via Idaho’s Public Records Act. The documents lay out a series of proposals on pay rates, medical reimbursement plans, sick leave, retirement plans, career development, vacations, and more.

While there are many differences between the two sides’ proposals on a wide variety of factors, the base pay raise concepts show a wide gap between the two sides. The City of Boise proposed a two-year contract with a 5.9% raise in the first year and a 5% in raise in the second year. The city recently handed out a similar 5.9% raise to all non-union city employees.

The union’s proposal asked for a three or four-year deal. In the three-year scenario, firefighters asked for a 10% raise in the first year, a 10% raise in the second year, and 3% in the third year. In the four-year deal proposed by the union, firefighters would see a raise of 11% in the first year, 7% in the second, 3.5% in the third and 3.5% in the fourth.

The city provided the union with a slide that it said laid out “total compensation.” When not adjusted for cost of living differences, the data the city presented show a probationary firefighter making 6.3% more in Bosie than in a group of “outside municipalities.” When adjusted for cost of living differences, the city says that probationary firefighter costs 17.7% more.

The city also laid out a slide that shows that since 2018, city employees have seen wages rise by 14.9%, just above the consumer price index for urban consumers rate of 14.49%. It shows firefighter pay increased 19.85% over the same time period.

What’s next

With mediation next month, the current contract for firefighters will expire on September 30th. Boise City Attorney Jayme Sullivan asked Shuey if the union wanted to let the current contract expire at the end of the month.

“At no point do we want the contract to expire,” Shey said. “We’re not gaining much ground. We are at pretty far ends of the table. “

The city and the union agreed not to meet to try and hammer out a deal on their own. Now, the two sides will start to try and get to a deal with a mediator present.

In Idaho, police, and fire unions are not allowed to go on strike since they provide a public safety role. But a deal reached in 2008 between the Bieter administration and the fire union at the time agreed to go to binding arbitration, according to Firefighter News.

Four years ago, the negotiations also failed to produce a new contract, and the city under former Mayor Dave Bieter and the union also went to arbitration. Ultimately, the arbiter sided with the union for the last contract.

Below: summary of city and union proposals. Some mobile or newsletter users may need to click here to view.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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