Contract talks between city and firefighters stall

Laguna Beach and the Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn. have called off negotiations on a new employment contract for the city's firefighters.

Negotiations for a new contract began in March and ended earlier this month, said John Latta, the business agent for the firefighters association. The firefighters' current two-year contract expired June 30, he said.

Latta, who has represented Laguna's firefighters since 2006, didn't go into specifics of the union's request but said members haven't had a cost-of-living adjustment since 2010.

The Laguna Beach Independent first reported the story.

"I'm disappointed we weren't able to reach an agreement during the initial negotiating process, but we intend to participate in fact-finding and look forward to getting an agreement," City Manager John Pietig said.

In fact-finding, both entities decide on a third person experienced in labor law to review facts and make a recommendation, Latta said.

"The hope is that someone shows you another point of view," Latta said. "It gets the two parties focused solely on issues at hand."

In 2011, Laguna's firefighters negotiated a new contract that increased current employee contributions to their retirement fund to 4.5% but gave no raises, according to a January 2012 Coastline Pilot story.

Under the expired contract, new hires contributed the full 9%, and the agreement also raised their retirement formula to age 55, the story said. The city expected to save about $400,000 with the agreement.

Pietig referenced the city's recent ability to reach agreements with its municipal employees' association earlier this year and police employees in 2011 as evidence that a new contract is possible.

The city has 105 municipal employees and 36 firefighter association members, who do not include fire managers, personnel services manager Barbara Salvini wrote in an email.

The three-year contract between the city and its municipal employees includes 5% salary raises over three years, according to a June 28 agenda bill. The City Council approved the contract 5 to 0 at its special meeting that day.

Municipal employees also agreed to contribute 8% toward their California Public Employees' Retirement System [CalPERS] benefits for the duration of the agreement (July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2016), the agenda bill said.

Current police employees began contributing 2% toward the city's 9% share of retirement benefits in January under the 30-month agreement, which does not include cost-of-living increases, the 2012 Coastline Pilot story said. They were contributing nothing to retirement accounts under the prior contract.

The city is working on setting dates to begin fact-finding, Pietig said.

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