WESTMINSTER : Contract Imposed on City Firefighters

The City Council decided this week to impose a one-year contract on the Westminster Firefighters Assn. after city and union negotiators failed to reach an agreement despite 15 meetings since last year.

The so-called memorandum of understanding, approved on a 4-1 vote, takes effect Saturday. It provides for a 4.33% salary increase, effective immediately, for 59 Fire Department employees.

In addition, it provides for continued insurance, overtime, vacation and other benefits, including uniform allowances and tuition fee reimbursements, but at reduced levels because of city efforts to rein in costs.

Trading overtime, the practice of trading shifts and claiming overtime for a shift not actually worked, is prohibited under the new contract. City officials said the practice has resulted in huge overtime expenses at the Fire Department in the past and triggered a continuing legal fight.

Mike Garrison, a union director who was fired as a fire captain last year on allegations of abusing overtime, said the decision to impose the contract was not a surprise.

"We knew it was coming," said Garrison, who has appealed his case. "But we feel we don't have parity with the other employees."

Garrison said the union rejected the city's contract offer in part because it did not contain benefits granted to police officers, such as extra pay for bilingual skills and a 2% pay raise for officers reaching 20 years of service.

In voting against imposing the contract, Councilwoman Margie L. Rice said that firefighters did not get the same level of benefits as other employees.

But Tony Lam, who was a recall target, said the firefighters are asking "for the whole world."

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