Pasco County firefighters this month will vote for a third time on a proposed union contract that calls for no pay raises this year.
Pay is still an issue, but the union's negotiating team was encouraged by statements from county commissioners that they would include a 3 percent pay raise in the 2014 budget, according to vice president Joe Russo.
The International Association of Firefighters Local 4420 has long contended that Pasco County Fire Rescue's wages are the lowest in the region. "We just had five guys quit to go work for Hillsborough County because of pay," Russo said.
The department has been understaffed for years, but in January, commissioners gave Fire Chief Scott Cassin the go-ahead to spend federal grant money to hire 18 new firefighters. The commission had threatened to reject the $2.3 million Department of Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant unless the union dropped a grievance over lost pay raises.
The county and firefighters' union held an impasse hearing on Feb. 21 — two months after union members rejected the contract by a vote of 216-54. The first time the contract went to a vote, union members shot it down unanimously. The two sides have been trying to negotiate a contract since 2010.
Russo said the negotiating team agreed with the special magistrate's recommendation that the union drop the grievance.
"Plus, we wanted to start things off on a positive foot with the new administrator," Russo said.
County Administrator John Gallagher is set to retire April 30. The two sides agreed to resume bargaining this spring over pay for the upcoming year.
The magistrate sided with the union in the dispute over keeping two pay periods. The county wanted to switch to 28-day work cycles to reduce overtime costs.
The union ratification vote will be held March 18-20.