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Non-monetary issues confront firefighters in contract vote

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 by Austin Monitor

As Austin firefighters vote this week on a new union contract, they are getting competing recommendations on whether or not to approve the proposed deal. The conflict is not over pay scales, but over the race and gender-based hiring goals the city wants in the new contact.


Former Austin Firefighters Association President and current Council Member Mike Martinez has sent out an email urging firefighters to ratify the contract, while Battalion Chief Bob Nicks is distributing an email denouncing the contract as part of his campaign for a spot as union Secretary.


Martinez’s e-mail includes some of the points he made during Thursday’s Council meeting. He warns the firefighters that continuing to negotiate in hopes of a better deal may actually result in one without the raises in the current proposal. “Our city is standing in the midst of one of the biggest financial crises that this country has ever faced,” he writes.


“In cities all across the country, local governments are struggling to avoid staff reductions….over the last two months we have seen a steady decline in sales tax revenue to the tune of 8 percent in September and 10 percent in October. We adopted our budget based on a 2 percent projected sales tax growth rate. So as you can see…hard times are not just coming…they are here and they are real.” Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Randi Shade joined Martinez in the email.


However, the dispute is over other issues. As Martinez points out, “this contract is asking you to help us achieve our goals of diversity in the department—diversity that has been lacking for many years . . . the fact remains that the fire department does not reflect the citizens we serve. And I believe it should as much as possible.”


Battalion Chief Nicks disputes Martinez’s analysis, urging fellow union members to reject the contract and force the city back to the bargaining table. “It is likely Mr. Martinez was invoked as a final attempt to sell this contract out of fear,” he wrote. “Do not be afraid, vote your will.” Nicks said, “My views are not the views of the bargaining team.” He also tells firefighters “our issues have value (hiring, appointments, and promotions).”  For Nicks and those who agree with him, the primary issues are not financial. He writes that he and others are “only seeking adjustments to (the city’s) non-monetary demands”.


Martinez addressed some of these complaints last week, when he spoke out during the Council meeting in favor of the contract’s provisions for increasing diversity within the department. The contract would allow AFD to deviate from strict civil-service rules for hiring and promotion.


Firefighters are voting on the contract and union officers through Wednesday at the AFA headquarters.

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