Easton Council Approves Fire Contract
Firefighters in Easton agree to new contract without arbitration.
For the first time in a generation, Easton City Council has agreed to contract terms with the city’s fire department without going to arbitration.
"This is a major step forward,” Councilman Roger Ruggles said Wednesday of the terms settled between council and International Association of Firefighters Local 713 which represents Easton’s 42 firefighters. "We're proud to bring you terms that are in the best interests of the City, of the City’s taxpayers and of the City’s firefighters."
Council -- which approved the terms of the four-year deal unanimously -- could not release specifics of the contract until the contract is formally written and officially approved.
City Administrator Glenn Steckman said the two parties agreed on the terms that will make up the contract with the Union Local approving the deal on Saturday, Sept. 8. An official contract should be voted upon by council within two to four weeks, said Mayor Sal Panto.
There are 44 total members of the fire department but the chief and deputy chief are not in the union. Neither participated in negotiations because their salaries are partly based on the union contract.
The deal provides firefighters raises throughout the contract consistent with those currently being awarded in the private sector, according to Steckman. Currently, before the new contract, a starting firefighter in Easton makes approximately $40,000 per year and a firefighter with five years' experience brings home about $60,000 per year, said Steckman.
Both those figures will increase under the new deal. Steckman said the deal will be beneficial to the city in terms of savings on health and pension costs.
The contract begins on Jan. 1, 2013, when the existing contract with the local expires, and it goes until Dec. 31, 2016.
This is the first time in more than 20 years that the council and the firefighters have entered into a new contract without first going through arbitration. It is illegal for firefighters or police officers to strike in Pennsylvania.
Council members said that not having a contract in previous years had created some bad feelings between council and the department. Council believes avoiding that is a big relief for the city.
Steckman, who negotiated the deal along with City Finance Director Chris Heagele and Human Resources Director Pat Glory, with input from Panto, said the city and the union have been working toward a more harmonious relationship for more than two years.
He said a big part of the friendly work environment was council’s recent emphasis on spending money to increase fire department safety and equipment. He used a new pumper truck that council has pledged to purchase as an example.
The city administrator also praised the local for understanding the financial restraints Easton is suffering through in this down economic time.
“The Fire Department really stepped up to the plate, just like the Police Department stepped up to the plate last year [in negotiations],” said Steckman. “You really have to give them credit.”
“They’re professional in performance of fire safety, but also in the way they handle union matters,” added Panto.
The agreement is a little longer than is traditional between the city and the department. Most previous agreements have been for three years, said Steckman.
However, the last contract was in arbitration for more than a year and a half. The arbitrator suggested adding another year onto the contract because more than half the contract time was already gone. Steckman said that the firefighters preferred the lengthier contract and requested the four-year term this time and council agreed.
Also Wednesday, council approved a new lease with the Crayola Factory. The deal calls for Easton to pay McDonald’s Corp. $100,000 per year over the next three years in order to allow Crayola access to the entire building.
McDonald's moved out of its location in the space last week. City officials have said the new lease will keep Crayola in downtown Easton for at least another decade.