After more than two years at impasse, Pasco County firefighters on Wednesday ratified a new contract by a vote of 188 to 18.
The outcome of the three-day vote is an about-face for the union, whose members unanimously rejected the contract a year ago. The International Association of Firefighters Local 4420 also dropped a grievance over lost pay raises in previous years.
The contract does not include a pay raise for this year.
Union Vice President Joe Russo said it was a tough pill to swallow, but the union accepted the recommendations of the special magistrate who mediated the contract.
“He recommended we go this way right now, and we will reopen wage negotiations in June,” Russo said.
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. Commissioners also accepted a $2.3 million federal grant to help the department replenish its depleted ranks.
“We took those as signs of good faith and a reason for us to show good faith,” Russo said. “Plus, we have a new administration with Chief (Scott) Cassin. We’re hoping he’ll bring us into the 21st Century, and we wanted to give him room to enact his vision.”
Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said the ratification vote moves the county in a positive direction as commissioners begin working on next year’s budget. “It’s a huge swing when you consider they unanimously voted against it last year,” he said. “At least they saw that good things are coming.”
Personnel Director Barbara De Simone said she, too, is pleased with the outcome and hopes to move forward from here.