Fresno firefighters begin voting on contract (video)

Thursday City Council meeting looms as possible deadline for decision.

The Fresno BeeJuly 7, 2014 

Fresno's rank-and-file firefighters began voting Monday on a contract offer that requires big concessions up front but delivers a raise at the end.

It marked the start of a days-long process involving high stakes: The possibility looms that the City Council could impose terms if the firefighters don't agree to the deal.

Union president Pete Flores in a text message said, "We will be voting again on (Wednesday) to allow all shifts an opportunity to vote. We will know (Wednesday) late afternoon."

Flores gave no hint of his members' inclinations.

City Manager Bruce Rudd said he is "hopeful that the third time's the charm."

The City Council has scheduled a meeting for Thursday morning with the fire contract as the agenda's only topic.

There's a chance council members will do something. They almost certainly would approve the deal if firefighters by Wednesday give it a thumbs up. There's chatter at least four would vote to impose terms and conditions if the firefighters turn thumbs down.

Then, again, it could turn into more delay. There's ample precedent.

The contract expired last year. City officials want firefighters to pay more toward their pensions and pick up more of their health care premiums. Mayor Ashley Swearengin is counting on savings of about $1.8 million over the next two years to balance the budget.

The two sides came close twice. Each time, a union vote said no.

The council appeared ready to impose terms on June 26. But Flores at the last minute asked for patience. He told the council a new offer had been negotiated behind closed doors that morning.

Some tweaks had been made. The deal's length was extended six months to Jan. 1, 2017, for example. A raise after two years remained in place.

Flores said he thought he could sell the deal to a voting majority in the union. The council voted 7-0 to return on Thursday and review where things stand, though no one thinks all seven members would vote to force terms on the firefighters.

Many firefighters say they've made more than their fair share of concessions in the last five years.

Without the latest concessions, the council would face a big hole in a budget it approved last month.

Rudd said too many think Fresno is on easy street merely because city officials no longer fear bankruptcy.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Rudd said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com or @GeorgeHostetter on Twitter.

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