The city wants out of some contract provisions; firefighters could lose pay raise, staffing and more.

AUBURN – Firefighters have been told they won’t be getting a 2 percent pay raise they were due starting July 1 under terms of a contract signed with the city in February.

City Manager Pat Finnigan moved last week to reopen the city’s contract with Local 797, an affiliate of the International Association of Firefighters.

Mike Scott, the local’s president, said that besides reneging on the promised pay raise, Finnigan also wants to rewrite contract terms dealing with Auburn Fire Department staffing levels and the amount that firefighters pay for their health insurance.

The union represents 61 members, Scott said.

He said he was told the city was looking to reopen the contract under a clause in it that allows it to be revisited. He said Finnigan told him the city can’t afford to pay the 2 percent raise, and that no other city employees would be getting such raises this year.

Firefighters aren’t happy with Finningan’s move.

“We’re going to go to the Maine Labor Relations Board,” Scott said. They will ask the state agency to prevent the city from gutting the agreement.

“This contract is only a few months old,” he added.

Scott said money to pay for the raises and other contract provisions is contained in the municipal budget.

The city should “live up to what we’ve negotiated and what was just passed,” Scott said.

Doing otherwise, he added, might result in the state ruling the city didn’t show good faith in its bargaining.

“I’m sure it’s going affect future negotiations,” Scott said, “if we can’t trust what they say.”

He said some city officials began complaining about the contract’s provisions within two months of approving it in February.

Besides trying to get out of paying the 2 percent raise that firefighters were to get this month, Scott said the city wants to cut staffing levels to a dozen firefighters per shift. Currently, the department has a crew of 14 on weekdays and 13 on weekends.

Reopening a clause that deals with health insurance payments could mean firefighters would be expected to pay more for the benefit. The city already has told the union representing police officers that it wants them to pay 15 percent of the insurance cost, instead of the 10 percent now assessed.

Police are opposing the proposed increase, noting it would, in effect, represent a pay cut since the city hasn’t offered any offsetting increase in salary levels.

Firefighters began paying 10 percent of that cost effective with the contract they and the city signed in February. They had worked since June 2001 under terms of an expired contract.

The pact they and the city approved in February resulted in a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 2001, and a 4.8 percent raise retroactive to July 2002.

That 4.8 percent increase was based on a market study of fire personnel wages paid around the country, Finnigan said in February. “This is just an equalization based on the job market,” she said at the time.

Finnigan didn’t return a call to her office Monday seeking information of the city’s move to reopen the contract.

The contract with firefighters is the only one in effect at the moment in Auburn. Its contracts with union members of the Police Department and Public Works employees each expired earlier.

Scott said that besides taking their case to the state labor panel, firefighters might also consider a breach of contract lawsuit against Auburn if it doesn’t honor its commitments.

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