October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain fire union takes wage freeze

LORAIN — After agreeing to a three-year wage freeze, firefighters prevailed on three of the five contractual issues they contested with city officials.

Arbitrator Thomas Nowel on Oct. 24 ruled that Lorain firefighters can continue to receive 148 hours of annual vacation time rather than the 110 hours that the city had sought.

The city said 110 hours was comparable with the 104 hours police officers receive, but the union noted that firefighters work about 280 more hours annually than police.

Nowel also rejected the city’s attempt to eliminate 26 hours of annual compensatory time, which it said cost taxpayers $800 per firefighter. The union said the elimination would mean a 1 percent loss in income.

“The union makes a convincing argument that it has agreed to a three-year wage freeze and the elimination of this benefit would result in a loss of additional income,” Nowel wrote. “In addition, the employees of the Police Department have cashed in significantly more compensatory hours compared to the fire department over the last two or three years.”

Nowel ruled in favor of the union over the city’s short-term cost-saving attempt to defer two weeks of pay to when firefighters end employment with the city. Nowel said firefighters would immediately lose money under the plan, and Auditor Ronald Mantini had not considered the decreases in his budgeting for the upcoming fiscal year.

Mantini projects the city will finish the year with an approximately $1.81 million surplus but that it will face a projected $2.3 million deficit next year because of a reduction in state taxpayer money. The city has been designated in fiscal watch by the state since 2002, meaning it costs taxpayers more money for the city to borrow money for things such as infrastructure improvements or new equipment due to the city’s low bond rating.

Nowel ruled in the city’s favor over uniform allowances. The union had sought to raise the allowance from $800 to $1,000 for current firefighters and from $1,150 to $1,200 for incoming firefighters.

Nowel also ruled for the city over the union’s request to increase the linen allowance from $6,000 annually to $10,000.

Firefighter Jonathon George, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 267 president, said he thought Nowel’s decisions were fair. George said he believed the union’s willingness to accept a wage freeze also helped its cause.

“We were well aware of the financial condition of the city,” he said. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to ask for raises.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.